Before joining the New England Patriots on a two-year free agency deal, Adrian Phillips spent six seasons with the San Diego and later Los Angeles Chargers — a time during which he grew from a player unable to earn a consistent spot on the practice squad to a core member of the team’s defensive backfield and special teams units. His stint with the Chargers was a pretty successful one for the former undrafted rookie
It also has made L.A. head coach Anthony Lynn a fan, despite his team not bringing the 28-year-old back in free agency earlier this year.
“Adrian is a really good football player. We miss him dearly. It didn’t surprise me at all that he would go somewhere and start and help a football team out. His intangibles are just as good as his leadership and talent,” Lynn said during a media conference call this week when asked about the long-time Charger.
“He’s a young man with a lot of versatility. You can use him a lot of different ways and put him in a lot of different positions and he’s going to figure it out. I see him doing exactly that right now.”
In New England, Phillips has been used as a “star” defender helping fill not only the role of safety Patrick Chung but also that of off-the-ball linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins: wherever the Patriots need him, it seems, they are using him. Accordingly, he is now in the middle of his most active season to date — surpassing the playing time share of even his most active seasons with the Chargers.
So far this season, the former undrafted free agent has appeared in all 11 games and been on the field for 528 of a possible 670 defensive snaps or 78.8 percent. For comparison, he never surpassed the 70-percent mark while still with his old team — his previous career-high, that he set in 2018, was 66 percent of defensive snaps. It’s therefore obvious that Phillips has become a valuable member of New England’s defense.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick also pointed this out when talking about the versatile defensive back this week — echoing Lynn’s praises along the way.
“Adrian showed a lot of value as a special teams player as well as in multiple defensive roles that he played out there, and he’s been able to do that for us here,” said Belichick. “So, anytime you put them into a different system, you never know exactly how that’s going to work out. But, Adrian is a smart player, he’s very instinctive and he works extremely hard at football. Football’s important to him. He’s got a good football background from his playing career in Texas and with the Chargers.”
That same Chargers, meanwhile, opted not to retain Phillips before free agency in March — allowing the Patriots to bring him aboard with a two-year, $6 million pact.
“You never want to lose a player like Adrian, but in free agency, every year a team is going to turn over a third of the roster and sometimes you just can’t keep everyone and he just happened to fall into that category,” said Lynn about Los Angeles not bringing back one of its most experienced defensive players. “But, no, we liked him a lot. He was very good, very productive player for us. Happy that he’s doing well.”
Phillips is indeed doing well. While the New England defense as a whole has had its ups and downs this season after having led the league in scoring just a year back, the first-year Patriot has adapted well to a new scheme and more prominent role within it: he is the team’s leader in tackles this season with 72, and has also registered a pair of interceptions. He also left a positive impression on his head coach along the way.
“You can see him do multiple things on the field and do them well. And then the more you’re around him personally, I’d say the more you like him,” Belichick said. “Again, he’s into football, he works hard, he communicates well. He understands different responsibilities, both as a safety and at times when he’s in the box and those responsibilities closer to the line of scrimmage. He does a good job of tying all that together. He tackles well.
“The roles that he’s filled for us in the kicking game have been important, too. He’s just a good football player that’s helped us in a lot of different ways.”
New England will certainly hope for more contributions from Phillips this week, as he is set to meet his former team for the first time since his departure.