Phillips mindset the biggest change

Would Jordan Phillips ever emerge as that playmaker everybody thought he would be? Thanks to defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery, OU fans are starting to see that development.

The first impression Oklahoma fans had for sophomore defensive tackle Jordan Phillips this year was not a good one. It wouldn't be too much of an overstatement to say it was disastrous.

Freshman running back Keith Ford plowed over Phillips during camp in the Oklahoma drill. OU coach Bob Stoops tried to play it off later in the day's press conference. But for many, it was a sign of just how long of a season this was going to be on the defensive line.

Three games into the season, and Ford is making a living running through defenders. And that moment is just a distant memory for Phillips, who has made steady improvement with each game.

"Jordan is another guy that is maturing and that's what is giving us a chance," OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. "If we can get that out of Jordan every time he steps on the field, he gives the offense some problems over the nose.

"He has really come on maturity wise in his desire to get better as a player, and that's what has really given him a chance to make an impact."

It didn't happen overnight. Coming into the season, it sure looked like the defensive line was going to be the biggest question mark for this year's OU defense.

Mike Stoops didn't deny there were a lot of questions about his group. He realized how inexperienced everybody was, but that's where first-year defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery has come in.

Montgomery changed the attitude from the start with his players. Maybe none as much with Phillips when the two discussed his goals.

"Me and coach went into his office, we sat down and discussed my goals and what I wanted to do here," Phillips said. "He said if I keep playing the way I am playing I am not going to accomplish the things I want to do."

Phillips had heard those same types of words before. But for some reason it simply resonated more coming from Montgomery, the new guy in town.

The depth that looked like would be such an issue hasn't reared its head through the first fourth of the season. Every game it feels like more and more players are making an impact on the defensive line.

Part of that has come with the attacking scheme being used. No longer reacting to everything, Phillips said he and the rest of the defensive line feel at home being the aggressors.

"Coach Montgomery brought a whole different mindset to the defensive line and that's what really has changed everything," Phillips said. "It just really helps out our technique and the way that we are playing."

And the way he's playing is the best he has done during his time at OU. Phillips only has six official tackles, but he was named one of the defensive players of the week against West Virginia and has been that force in the middle all national championship-caliber teams need.

"He has freed us up really good, but he has also been making the plays," senior linebacker Corey Nelson said. "Even if they do come up on us, he is there to make the play. It makes the defense even easier and for us to be able to stop the run as well."

Phillips is off to a nice start, but it's not about starting well. Phillips and the defense need to finish well. Mike Stoops know what type of talent he has in Phillips, and now he just wants to see his charge get the most out of it.

"A lot of kids don't have that kind of talent," Stoops said. "It's a waste if you don't use it and use it to its fullest. Now he is starting to see that, and I think he is excited about learning how he can make plays and affect teams from the middle of the defensive line. He's very disruptive, and he takes a lot of pride in being disruptive now."

Phillips credits Montgomery for a lot of his success. But it wasn't just Phillips that Montgomery has changed although Montgomery knows what he had to do with Phillips.

"The way I look at it is I put my foot on his throat every single day," Montgomery said. "Because the minute you let up – you give an inch, he's going to take a foot.

"He's a great kid. He's a learner. He's learning how to play at a high level."

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