Sooners need DT Jordan Phillips to emerge

NORMAN, Okla. -- It’s rare to hear teammates rave about a player who has done so little on Saturdays. Offensive linemen who have to deal with him during practice at Oklahoma describe him with statements that include "future All-American," "the next Gerald McCoy" and "a handful."

Yet all that praise means nothing unless Jordan Phillips becomes a difference-maker at defensive tackle for the Sooners.

The past 12 months have seen progress from Phillips as he worked his way into the defensive tackle rotation in the season’s final few weeks in 2012. This spring, as all eyes turned his way as the lone defensive tackle on the roster with any experience, he continued to improve.

Sophomore center Ty Darlington, who spent a large portion of the spring battling Phillips, called him the toughest one-on-one matchup on the squad.

“He’s made me look like a child a couple of times,” Darlington said with a chuckle. “He’s athletic for his size, he moves so well and he has long arms.”

The sophomore followed up a strong spring with a strong Red-White spring game, as Phillips showed his continued improvement by spending a good portion of the game in the offense's backfield, finishing with three tackles and a sack. When he keeps his 6-foot-6, 318-pound frame low along the line of scrimmage, he can be a powerful force in the middle that is difficult for one offensive lineman to contain.

“He’s a monster on the inside,” defensive end Geneo Grissom said after Phillips’ inside pressure helped free Grissom up to record four tackles and one sack in the spring game.

Phillips, who can do a back flip and dunk a basketball with ease, has amazing athleticism. Those physical traits should provide a foundation that could make him a terror in the future for Big 12 offenses.

But the next three months could be the most critical time for the sophomore. And it could be even more important to the Sooners’ defense.

“He has to be a player for us,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “Getting Jordan to where he can play 50 snaps a game is going to be a necessity for us to be successful and play effectively for 50 snaps. And that is where he has to have to have a great summer, with conditioning, for us to be able to rely on him for 50 snaps.”

In other words the Sooners are counting on him to approach this summer as if the success of the entire defense is resting upon his broad shoulders. And, in some ways, it is.

“Jordan is real good, he just needs someone to push him,” linebacker Corey Nelson said. “Going against the offense he’ll get a little gassed and I’ll have to say ‘Jordan, pick it up.’ He’ll pick it up and get to the next gear. His potential is far beyond any potential I can think of as far as our defensive line goes. he has the potential to be one of the greatest to come out of here.”

Phillips knows he still has a long way to go. And Nelson -- who has expressed a desire to be one of the senior leaders on this year’s squad -- believes he knows how Phillips can change his potential into production.

“Play fast, play with a motor and be physical, even when he’s tired,” Nelson said. “Being physical, being able to play fast and play smart, that will make him the player he needs to be.”