It was a stellar first season for Adrian Phillips with the Patriots in 2020. Starting all 16 games, Phillips led the Pats with 106 tackles, picking up the first sack of his career and tying his season-best two interceptions.
Between free agent acquisitions and the return of Dont'a Hightower, a defense that prides itself on being gameplan flexible has added a number of new moveable pieces that can only complement the versatile Phillips.
"The pieces help us out a lot," said Phillps after Monday's minicamp practice. "You add [the vets], along with the guys that have a second year in the program, have some games underneath their belt, have a better understanding of the defense. When you put those pieces together there ain't no telling what we can do."
One of those second-year players is safety Kyle Dugger, who impressed Phillips in his rookie year playing a lot of the same roles as the former Charger. They're similar players, suited to play close to the line of scrimmage or in coverage, and ideal fits for what the Patriots like to do on defense.
"The main thing that you want to see in young players is how they take the success and if they're still hungry the next year and he's still hungry, there's still a lot out there for him to get, he still wants to learn," said Phillips of Dugger. "He takes coaching, he just goes out there and makes plays. [He's] physically gifted and when you add that to somebody who cares about the mental aspect of the game, he has no ceiling. It's good to see that and if he stays on the right path it could take him to some great places."
Perhaps the greatest asset to Phillips and Dugger this offseason is actually having an offseason at all. Both experienced introductions to football life in New England last year on an entirely virtual basis. Now, with the chance to be back on the field, it's the time to make mistakes.
"Last year, we had a pandemic, when we came back we pretty much hit the ground running," said Phillips. "You learned what you could over the virtual meetings but you hit the ground running. It's been good for a lot of guys to get this extra time on the field when you're playing with house money. You have a chance to go out there, mess it up, get coached up and learn how to do it right. As opposed to in-season when everything matters."