Shaun Phillips eager to play linebacker

Many have cited Shaun Phillips as one of the most talented pass rushers in college football when he entered the draft. What they did not touch upon was his ability to stop the run or his pass covering ability. He was viewed as one dimensional. When he lasted until the second pick of the fourth round, the San Diego Chargers war room exploded with excitement. They knew they had the perfect fit in their new 3-4 defense.

What most people didn't see was Phillips improved his run stuffing ability dramatically throughout his career. But when his 33 and one half sacks jump out, it is tough to see beyond that.

But his tackles for a loss are equally impressive. Entering the season, Phillips had 37.5 tackles for a loss and upped that total by adding 23 more. He left Purdue with the third most tackles for a loss, 60.5, in Purdue annals.

At 260 pounds, for a linebacker, he has some pop. That has created nine forced fumbles throughout his career at Purdue. His plan is to test his current weight out but he sees himself dropping about five pounds.

"I don't really like saying (my weight) because people will think I was sitting around doing nothing," Phillips relayed. "That isn't the case. I have still been working out just as hard. I just have lifting so much and adding bulk. I have been trying to stay at a median. I didn't know where I was going to play in the league."

Then there is his pass coverage. You will be amazed to learn that Shaun Phillips had 23 pass deflections. He has the speed to cover most players and really made a concerted effort to improve that facet of his game.

But all those numbers are now at zero.

He had a pretty good inkling that he would travel the road that Roosevelt Colvin and other Boilermakers have made in the past, moving to outside linebacker from his defensive end position.

With such knowledge, he spent a significant amount of time honing the skilss that linebackers need to possess.

"Thirty percent of the time," Phillips said of how much he dropped into coverage. "I'm pretty good at it because of the simple fact that I knew I might be playing linebacker (in the NFL). The last two summers I have been doing pass scully with our offense and defense. Playing middle, playing outside, when Purdue picked me up I was an athlete. I was a basketball player first and then I learned how to play football."

The learning curve since camp has begun has been a slow steady process for each position. The coaches don't want to overload the rookies with too much information. Get one thing, apply it on the field and then move on.

One of the keys for Phillips is working on his footwork with linebackers coach Greg Manusky. Before any other drills are done, Phillips and the rest of the linebackers work on a variety of footwork enhancing drills. From sidestepping to backpedals to hip turning and everything in between, they practice it.

"My footwork will be ok," Phillips remarked on his likely status heading into training camp. "The harder transition is the coaches giving us different coverages to look at and understanding coverages and understanding stances and the little tricks of the game. That will be the harder part of the game."

It may be hard but Phillips is eager to work the kinks out. He is still upset at all those people who passed him over. It is motivation to perform.

"Oh, definitely. We are going to make a lot of teams pay for not taking a chance on me," Phillips said firmly. "I believe I can be a valuable player to our organization to help us win.

"Surely we will see," he added sinuously.

Denis Savage can be reached at denis@sandiegosports.net

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