I know I've said this before, but I feel like it always bears repeating. I've talked to quite a few of our receivers over the last two years and I always try to ask the same thing during every conversation: "who is the toughest DB you have to go against everyday in practice on the team?" And the nearly unanimous answer? Ne'Quan Phillips.
Phillips is a true sophomore, and just looking at his numbers from last season alone may make him seem fairly innocuous. 25 tackles and 2 interceptions. Hell, even his height (listed at 5' 9?) is innocuous in a vacuum. And yet, here is the classic guy who completely justifies ignoring the commonly tangible measurables, and for whom proper evaluation requires only that you analyze his play on the field (and on film.)
The first thing I noted when we met? He's thick. Like redwood tree stump thick. When I asked, he said he maxes out in excess of 300 pounds on the bench. The best part? Rather than spending the summer "working out like a madman", he actually tried to slim down. Apparently the coaches told him that he was getting…"sluggish" at the end of games. So instead of putting on more bulk he worked hard to lose some of it (while still being able to maintain his physical style of play.)
Another thing I noticed is that, like Garrett Nevels, up until I talked to him I'd never actually seen him smile. Not that this is particularly dispositive of his ability as a football player, but moreso it speaks to the way he carries himself on the field. No BS. No pandering. No fun. There's only winning, and doing your job. Not a lot of film out there on him, but his play style hasn't really changed all that much since this highlight tape was made:
What he excels at, and tries to do no matter who he's guarding, is play physical. And this isn't "grabbing and hand fighting down the sideline" physical. This is "ramming into them at the line and preventing them from getting any kind of release at all" physical. I asked specifically about how he deals with taller receivers since, in particular, our three freshman and Vasquez are all over 6'2?. His answer? "I just play physical. I try to play as physical as I can and not let them get by me." And really it doesn't need to get any more complex than that. He's asked to shut someone down, and this is literally all he needs to do to accomplish that task. Best of luck to him on the 29th. I'm positive this isnt the last thing I'll write about him this season (In a perfect world, on August 30th I'll be crying in hysterical happiness as I type out the headline "Ne'quan holds Marquise Lee to 0 catches/has pick 6, as UH Upsets USC.") Hey, a guy can dream right?