Habib: Dolphins rookie Jaelan Phillips eager for Jason Taylor masterclass in harassing QBs
The clip was nine seconds long, but it was enough. From his knees, Jaelan Phillips jacked up a blocking sled once, then kneeled down and sprung up to do it again.
It didn’t take much imagination to picture an offensive tackle in place of that sled.
It barely took more imagination to picture a quarterback behind that tackle, with an unfortunate future awaiting.
That’s the weight on Jaelan Phillips’ shoulders now. As the 18th overall pick by the Dolphins, and the first edge rusher to come off the board, he represents the best chance at becoming the dominant, feared pass rusher the organization has lacked since the days of Cameron Wake and, before him, Jason Taylor.
Given that Phillips has taken neither his first NFL snap nor even finished his first training camp practice, it’s pointless to debate whether he can live up to their standards.
How he’s carrying himself as he begins his transition from college to the pros — that’s another story.
Some rookies take an unmistakable deer-in-headlights approach to their first Zoom sessions with NFL reporters. Phillips sat down at the computer Saturday, checked his look on the screen, fretted that his hair had that “after-practice” look, then fluffed up his flowing locks.
“Sorry, guys,” he said. “Didn’t get my hair ready for you guys today.”
Dolphins reporters, whose hair was at varying stages of readiness for Phillips, wasted no time getting to the heart of the matter, asking if Phillips had yet met with Taylor.
“I haven’t met Jason Taylor yet, but I’d definitely love to,” Phillips said. “He’s a legend. Definitely would love to pick his brain and get some advice from him whenever I can meet him.”
There’s no doubt this meeting — make that meetings, plural — are a matter of time. Taylor’s bust in Canton was shaped by his explosion off the ball and knack for not just making plays, but making game-changing plays. So often, the play was over one second after the snap. Taylor had his man beaten off the line and the rest was academic.
That too was Phillips’ game at the University of Miami. It was what he showed at the Hurricanes’ pro day and it’s why the Dolphins risked a first-round pick on him despite his injury history.
But wait. How much does Phillips know about J.T., anyway?
“I was born in 1999,” Phillips said. “But yeah, I definitely remember growing up watching him play. That would be pretty amazing to meet him for sure.”
Taylor’s final season was in 2011, so Phillips would have been 12 when he last saw Taylor in action.
‘I'm doing a bunch of stuff right now'
Just as Taylor began as a defensive end but became a hybrid linebacker with the Dolphins, Phillips was listed as an edge rusher entering the draft but has “LB” next to his name on the Dolphins’ roster, which may be more formality than anything.
“Honestly, I’m doing a bunch of stuff right now,” Phillips said.
The clip posted on social media is proof.
“That's just kind of the perennial D-lineman drill,” he said. “That's explosion out of your hips, and really focusing on quick hands, hands where you're looking. That's kind of the base of every movement when you're a D-lineman."
The work he gets at linebacker takes him back a few years to his days at UCLA, where he began his collegiate career.
“It's nice because I feel like I'm a lot more versatile, having experienced both,” Phillips said.
QBs will have to play guessing game with Phillips
It’s nice if a quarterback has to sweat where Phillips is coming from before every snap. Phillips, meanwhile, isn’t sweating anything, whether coaches ask him to line up at end or linebacker.
“Sometimes when you’re standing up, it’s more advantageous being able to see everything, like trying to take a snapshot of what’s going on,” Phillips said. “Then, when you’re in the three-point, obviously you’re having more leverage because you’re coming low to high. But yeah, having played both, I’m definitely comfortable doing whatever I need to do. But that’s just kind of the basis of Football 101.”
That’s what May is for. Come July and August, Phillips — an honor student while growing up — surely will have face time with Taylor for Football 102 and 103.