Adrian Phillips' versatility is key

Junior played corner in 2011 but has now settled in at safety for Longhorns

Updated: September 13, 2012, 12:07 AM ET
By Carter Strickland | HornsNation

AUSTIN, Texas -- Duane Akina doesn't care about a five-tool player.

Laughs at them really.

What's five tools when you have someone like Adrian Phillips? He's a six-, maybe even seven-position player, according to Akina. The Texas safety is the Swiss Army knife with the extra saw blade and tweezers. Always at the ready and always with the right tool for the job no matter how big or small.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Phillips
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesAdrian Phillips has settled into his safety spot opposite Kenny Vaccaro and has 11 tackles so far in 2012.
"That is a real unique talent and a lot of people don't understand how big that is," the Texas secondary coach said. "He can go out there and play boundary corner, field corner, nickel, dime, field safety and boundary safety. Those are all different job descriptions within the defense, and those guys are very hard to find."

Texas found Phillips like it finds many of its defensive backs, playing quarterback in high school. And Phillips found that playing quarterback was what allowed him to understand all the positions he would have to play in college.

"When I was quarterback I just got used to learning different positions," the junior said. "I had to know where everybody was at on offense. So when I came here and started playing defense I did the same thing."

"Adrian Phillips has seen it, that a high school quarterback is taught concepts all through so he is used to making adjustments and he is used to understanding splits because he had to tell a receiver what they were running," Akina said. "What you don't know is that as a quarterback or an offensive player they are used to avoiding contact all the time and now you have to run through contact. It sounds real simple but it is not. They have to shift gears, throw their eyes, and run through contact."

No problem there. Phillips has 11 tackles in two games and is part of a secondary that has allowed just 155 passing yards per game. Last year Phillips had 43 tackles. Not at safety. At corner.

Then, without the benefit of spring practice due to injury, he was moved to safety.

"He is a real versatile and he is reliable," fellow safety Kenny Vaccaro said. "That is what you need as far as being a DB. You have to be reliable."

That reliability is what Akina is banking on. Because Phillips is able to not just play so many different positions, but also mentally understands what needs to be done at any given position at any given time in the game. That has allowed Akina to be more flexible with his secondary.

"So not only can you line up and cover a fleet receiver, you can get down in the box and be physical, and you could make all the adjustments," Akina said. "In this conference you need to (be versatile) because we don't have a lot of two backs back there with a tight end and two receivers."

Texas also needs Phillips to be versatile because he is the backup at both corner spots if either Carrington Byndom or Quandre Diggs were to go down. Cornerback is where Phillips had five starts in 2011 before replacing departed senior Blake Gideon. And while Gideon may have been maligned for what he didn't do at times on the field, what he did for Phillips off the field was immeasurable.

"I learned confidence, and I learned how to lead from Blake," he said. "Blake was a great leader. He taught me everything that I needed to know. He knew anything about the defense. Any question that you had for him, he knew it. I just put that upon myself, saying that I want to do the same thing, and that's the role I'm taking on now."

The role has not come without obstacles. Phillips is not exactly loquacious. That might be because Vaccaro is the voice of the secondary, really the defense, and there is not much air left in the room when he is done. Still, Phillips understands he has to step up and help the defense to communicate more effectively and efficiently.

Until that happens Phillips will have to rely on all the other tools at his disposal.

Carter Strickland | email

Reporter, HornsNation