NFC East: Emerging stars 09
|Larry French/Getty Images|
|The Giants are expecting more this season from second-year safety Kenny Phillips.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Growing up 15 minutes from the University of Miami campus, Kenny Phillips idolized Hurricanes such as Ed Reed and Sean Taylor. His choice came down to either Miami or Tennessee, and he decided to go with the program that could be referred to as Safety U.
Phillips eventually became a star for Miami before becoming a first-round draft choice for the Giants in '08. Some scouts said he was the best tackling safety they'd seen in years. Phillips quickly asserted himself as a playmaker in his first training camp, but he wasn't transferring it to the field.
His best season in college had actually been '06, when he could lean on safety Brandon Meriweather (now with the Patriots) in terms of making calls. He was available late in the first round of the '08 draft (No. 31), in part, because he slipped a little bit without Meriweather.
He couldn't crack the starting lineup heading into his rookie season with the Giants because he was thinking too much instead of trusting his instincts. A year later, he's poised to become one of the most dynamic players in the division.
He's my pick from the NFC East in ESPN.com's Emerging Stars series. Phillips has once again been one of the best players during training camp, but this season there's reason to believe he'll take that production to the field.
"There's a calmness about [Phillips]," Giants general manager Jerry Reese told ESPN.com earlier this month. "It never looks like he's straining. Everything comes easy for him. He's had a great camp and you can start to see that he's got some star qualities."
Even the grouchiest man in camp, coach Tom Coughlin, has gushed about Phillips. He'll replace James Butler at strong safety and play opposite Michael Johnson. Butler joined the Rams in free agency, but even if he'd stayed, he wasn't going to hold off Phillips another season.
This past offseason, Phillips added 15 pounds of muscle and is now playing at 217. And the funny thing is, he doesn't have a clue how he did it. He'd always had a tough time retaining weight, but something changed. Now, one of the surest tacklers on the team has a more menacing look about him. And as evidenced by several highlight-reel interceptions early in camp, Phillips didn't have to sacrifice any speed.
"I'm way more confident in the defense this season," Phillips said Friday via phone. "I'm playing football now and I'm not having to think so much. It's like back in college or something."