He has the versatility to play both safety positions, cover a slot receiver and return kicks. He can turn in big plays with or without the ball and he's a danger to score from anywhere on the field. As a senior at Coral City High School, he recorded 84 stops, intercepted six passes, recovered three fumbles, scored four defensive touchdowns and took three punts the distance en route to becoming Florida's Class 6A Player finalist.
Tennessee had problems at both safeties last season and rotated return men like J-Lo juggles fiancés. With Jason Allen the only experienced defensive back on a team that sent three DBs to the NFL last April, the Vols' young secondary struggled mightily.
Adding a freshmen of Phillips' caliber would give UT an immediate upgrade in addition to a great deal more flexibility in the secondary. It could also afford Allen a chance to move to cornerback where he would give the Vols a veteran DB able to play press coverage against big wideouts. In turn, it would afford Allen a chance to prove he can excel at both safety and corner which would increase his NFL stock significantly. That might just be enough to convince him that returning to UT for another season makes both dollars and sense.
Tennessee had planned to use Allen at the corner this season before deficiencies at free safety forced him to remain in the final line of defense. Allen ended up leading the SEC in tackles but he didn't get the chance to showcase his coverage skills. That could cost him money in much the same way it did Gibril Wilson last year.
Phillips sees the opportunity to become a rookie starter at Tennessee, which is something neither Miami or Florida State can offer.
"I could probably start at Tennessee and at Miami and Florida State I probably couldn't start but I would get early playing time," he said. "I'm looking for a school where I feel the most comfortable."
Undoubtedly, playing time was a key factor this week when Phillips elevated Tennessee into the lead for his services with Miami. The Hurricanes hold hometown advantage in this match-up, but the Vols may hold a trump card.
A lot of eyebrows were raised when coach Phillip Fulmer decided to start two true freshmen at quarterback this season. Some of those eyebrows belonged to high-profile prospects who recognized if the Vols were willing to start unseasoned signal callers they would be willing to play rookies at any position.
Another factor in UT's favor is stability. Miami's back-to-back subpar seasons have many Cane backers questioning whether head coach Larry Coker's early success had more to do with the talent left by Butch Davis than Coker's coaching ability. With Davis available and apparently ready to sit out next season, he will no doubt be linked as a possible replacement if Miami's slide continues in 2005.
"They've got a nice coaching staff…maybe they're supposed to be nice right now (laughs)," Phillips told Allen Wallace this week. "They've had some really successful safeties in their past. And I'd love to be coached by Tim Walton (defensive backs) because he'd make me into a better player."
UT's staff has to be encouraged that Phillips makes the Vols co-favorites without the benefit of ever seeing the campus, whereas he knows Miami well. He'll visit Knoxville Jan. 17 and get the red carpet treatment at UM four days later. His last visit is set for Florida State on Jan. 28.
"I haven't visited Tennessee yet, but I know they've got a really strong defense, especially at safety," Phillips told Wallace. "I think I could go in there and make an impact right away.
"They've got a good program and the coaches there aren't afraid to play their young guys, especially their freshmen, because if they have the ability to play on a higher level, they'll let them go for it."
Tennessee would like nothing better than to catch Kenneth Phillips and then turn him loose.