Back Phillips Should Feel Right at Home with Dolphins

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Phillips Should Feel Right at Home with Dolphins

By Dave Holcomb
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Jaelan Phillips should fit nicely in that spot and feel right at home in Miami.

Defensive end Jaelan Phillips traveled about 2,750 miles across the country when he transferred from UCLA to Miami to play football for the Hurricanes.

For his sake, hopefully he likes South Florida. Because with the No. 18 overall selection in the first round, the Miami Dolphins drafted Phillips.

The former 5-star prospect will now go a whopping … well, actually, he might not be traveling at all, as the Dolphins and Hurricanes share a facility -- Hard Rock Stadium.

So while going from college football to the NFL is always an adjustment, familiar surroundings and the Dolphins’ need for a pass-rushing specialist may give Phillips an advantage over his fellow first-round picks from the 2021 class.

As has been the case for quite a few pass rushers under Manny Diaz, especially at Miami, Phillips excelled in Diaz’s scheme despite playing just one season with the Hurricanes. In 2020, Phillips posted 8.0 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss, leading the team in both categories.

Considering that production came in 10 games, Phillips had arguably the best season of any passer rush at Miami since Diaz arrived at the school as defensive coordinator before the 2016 season. Under Diaz with the Hurricanes, Phillips became just the second defender with at least 0.80 sacks per game. He was also the first Miami defender in more than 10 years with more than 1.5 tackles for loss per game.

The Dolphins defense made great strides last season in head coach Brian Flores’ second year. Miami led the league with 29 takeaways, including 18 interceptions. With only 21 passing touchdowns allowed, which was the second-fewest in the NFL, the Dolphins had one of the best touchdown-to-interception ratios. Furthermore, they went from last in sacks in 2019 to 11th in 2020.

But the Miami pass rush can still get better. The Dolphins allowed 6.9 net passing yards per attempt last season, which was seventh-most in the league. They were also 23rd in total passing yards allowed.

Improvement in the secondary will help Miami in these categories, but continuing to place more pressure on the quarterback will do it too. That’s why the Dolphins invested one of their two first-round picks in Phillips.

The analysis of Phillips expects him to become a starter “within the first two seasons” he’s in the league. But for 2021, the Dolphins could utilize him most in pass-rushing situations.

“He’s a slippery-limbed pass rusher with good first-step quickness, which bodes well for his future rush success if he gets better with his hands and learns a go-to counter,” wrote NFL analyst Lance Zierlein.

Against the run, Zierlein wrote that it will be important for Phillips to add “play strength” in order to set the edge. But while he learns that skill, he could still excel in passing situations, helping the Dolphins improve even further against the pass. Maybe his presence could propel the Dolphins to have their first defender with double digit sacks since 2017.

Miami doesn’t need to force Phillips into the lineup either. Emmanuel Ogbah, who led the Dolphins with 9.0 sacks in 2020, is slated to start at right defensive end while fellow first-round pick from 2019, Christian Wilkins, is again expected to start at the other defensive end spot. Heading into minicamps, Ourlads has Phillips behind Ogbah on the Miami depth chart.

While he certainly has the potential for a bigger role than just a simple backup, Phillips should fit nicely in that spot and feel right at home in Miami. After all, he’s sort of home already.