Finding ferocity

Name it, and Northwestern senior Brad Phillips has probably injured it in the past year.

Last season there was the torn labrum in his shoulder, which he had surgery for in the offseason. This season there has been the bone bruise in his foot, the strained and bruised calf and lastly the hyper-extended elbow.

All together, the injuries may make Phillips a medical student's dream, but being a hard-hitting safety who is key to the Wildcats' defensive success and who is being closely watched by NFL scouts, they haven't been to helpful to his season.

"It's frustrating," said Phillips, who still has had 30 tackles, three forced fumbles, one sack and an interception this season. "I want to be able to play hard. I want to be able to play fast. I don't want to worry about anything. You have to battle through it and keep pushing and playing."

The positive is that for the first time in a long time, Phillips is finally feeling healthy again. When he takes the field against Miami of Ohio on Saturday, he'll be close to 100 percent. That's good news for a Northwestern defense that has struggled this season. With a fully capable Phillips in the secondary, the Wildcats look to regain a fierceness they had last season.

"We haven't put a complete game together," Phillips said. "Our goal this week is to put a complete game together. Just consistency, here and there there's been a breakdown where someone doesn't do their job. It makes a big difference. It's a unit thing. You can point to a lot of little things."

Against Purdue last week, Phillips was a perfect example of the defense's inconsistency. Early in the game, Phillips was stiff-armed on a short reception, and the play became a 67-yard touchdown. Later, Phillips made up for it and forced two fumbles, recovering one, to help Northwestern to the road win.

In those game-changing defensive plays, Northwestern defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz began to see the old Phillips, the one who led the Wildcats with 109 tackles last season.

"I don't think he played as well the first couple games of the season as he did a year ago," Hankwitz said. "But after the first couple series of the Purdue game, he played like we expected and like he expected. I know it was key for our team. We needed to make something happen and we did. That made a big impact in that game."

Whether Phillips has played good or bad this season, he always shares his thoughts and feelings about his games with his father, Duane Phillips. Duane played outside linebacker for Northwestern in the 1970s.

"He goes through the ups and downs with me, the bumps and bruises," Phillips said. "He's there to support me more than anything. I think like any father he's proud."

What Phillips doesn't like to talk too much about right now is his future. He's isn't sure if he'll playing in the NFL or doing something else next year.

"Whatever happens next year is out of my control," said Phillips, who is the 28th-ranked safety by Scouts Inc. "It's a good problem that I have. As I've been explaining to people, I'm heading full speed down the road and I'm about to hit a fork in the road. I've been preparing whether that opportunity presents itself or if it doesn't.

"The best advice I got was I talked to Coach [Jerry] Brown about it, and he said, 'Just ignore it and do your job.' I'm being the best college football player I can be. We're trying to be the best football players we can be. I love playing football. I love going out on Saturday and competing against the team in front of me and playing and competing with my best friends and brothers who I've been with for four years."

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at spowers@espnchicago.com.