“It has freed us up pretty good,” OU linebacker Corey Nelson said, “but he’s also been making the plays.”
It’s what OU’s coaching staff hoped they’d get from Phillips when they signed him back in 2011 out of Circle High School in Towanda, Kan. Physically, there wasn’t much he couldn’t do. The jaws of his fellow linemen dropped when the 6-foot-6, 320-pound Phillips did a back flip in practice one day. Men that big just don’t typically move in that manner.
Montgomery saw the athletic ability when he took over as defensive line coach last winter. He quickly figured out what needed to change with Phillips was his motor. He took plays off and it was leaving a lot of potential stuck in reserve.
It required some tough love.
“You know, the way I look at it is, I put my foot on his throat every single day,”Montgomery said. “Because the minute you let up … you give him an inch, he’s gonna take a foot.”
Montgomery set only one simple goal for Phillips during that August chat: play hard every single snap. Accomplish that one goal and everything else will take care of itself.
“It flipped the switch for me to hear from a new guy that just came in,” Phillips said. “I knew I wasn’t doing what I needed to do.”
Through the first three games, Phillips has. The Sooner defense looks, acts and plays like a different group than last season because of it.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said from the outset that this group needed defensive linemen to become playmakers if it wanted to make drastic improvement.
Well, the Sooners are 14th in the country in total defense — 50 spots higher than they finished last season. All the credit shouldn’t go to OU’s big man in the middle, but he’s part of it. And OU expects him to keep getting better.
“He’s really come on maturity-wise and with his desire to get better and be a dominating player,” Stoops said. “That’s what has given him a chance to make an impact on games and to make plays. He’s a very athletic guy that has a really bright future.”
Follow me @john_shinn