As a veteran skydiver, Patriots linebacker Ryan Phillips knows the out-of-control feeling of a free fall. Unfortunately, he also knows that feeling as a football player as well.
Following the 2000 season, Phillips readied himself for the free agent market, fresh off two years as a fulltime starter for the Giants. From 1999-2000, he posted 126 tackles, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and two interceptions. His team was coming off a Super Bowl loss to Baltimore, but there was sure to be interest in the steady outside linebacker just four years into his career. Or so Phillips thought.
He didn't get signed until May, when he joined Oakland. The bigger surprise came when he was cut at the end of training camp; suddenly finding himself out of the game as the 2001 season began.
"It was a tough deal. It was a shock, first of all, to not have more interest in me," Phillips said. "I expected to have a few teams calling after last year and after starting for two years on a defense that did well. It was one of those situational deals last year with the salary cap and a combination of other things. Going to Oakland, learning the defense and learning a new position at middle linebacker, and doing well at it, I really liked the team. They liked me, but it ended up being one of those situations where every year every team has to let go of one or two guys they really don't want to. An opportunity presented itself in Indianapolis where I went from watching games at home on Sunday to starting seven games."
By no means the egotistical type, the experience still was a harsh learning experience for Phillips. In his second crack at free agency, he put himself in a solid position quickly, bringing quality depth and competition to a New England linebacking corps that already lost Bryan Cox and may not get Roman Phifer back in the fold.
At 6-4 and 250 pounds, Phillips is listed at the same height and just a couple pounds lighter than inside linebacker Ted Johnson. Along with Johnson, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Andy Katzenmoyer, he is one of five linebackers on the roster with significant starting experience. New England's penchant for big linebackers made Phillips feel more comfortable with his new team.
"I think it was an ideal situation because of the system and size of the linebackers," Phillips said. "They seem to like bigger linebackers. That's a rarity nowadays. The current trend in the league is for smaller linebackers, but this here was a perfect fit."
For more on Phillips, check out next week's issue of Patriots Football Weekly, due to hit stands on Wednesday, May 1.