ALBANY, N.Y. -- Shortly after Kenny Phillips strapped on his New York Giants helmet and jogged onto the practice field for the first time as a participant since last September, the safety received a warm welcoming from his fellow defensive backs.
"Superman is back!" teammates shouted.
It may take another month before Phillips starts flying around the football field and making spectacular interceptions again, but the Giants star safety took his first significant step toward returning to the starting lineup when he came off the physically unable to perform list and practiced for the first time this season on Monday.
While Phillips only practiced in a dozen or so snaps and was handled with care, the safety emerged injury free and didn't show any signs of being limited or hobbled. He did slip twice on the field and was only tested once on a pass.
"I told them I feel like Clark Kent right now," Phillips said with a smile about his message to his teammates. "I'm working on putting back on that cape."
"I showed I'm ready, I'm ready to come back."
Phillips was used sparingly as head coach Tom Coughlin eased him back into the mix. Coughlin wanted Phillips to do about half of the individual drills and see about two snaps at a time during team drills.
He worked with the second team and appeared to move well for his first time back on the field since Week 2 against Dallas last September.
Phillips, who underwent microfracture surgery on a degenerative condition in his left knee, slipped a couple of times when he lost his footing while dropping back and stopping to move forward and he blamed it on his cleats.
Phillips' biggest challenge of the morning came when covering tight end Scott Chandler on a short pass route toward the right sideline. Phillips dove sideways to make sure the pass attempt was incomplete.
"I wasn't thinking about my knee when I hit the ground," Phillips said. "Was just trying to make a play. I was really trying to get it. I read it and went for it. Came really close. Maybe next time I will get it."
Phillips said of the 12 snaps he played, he made the right reads and the only negative were the slips. The majority of the plays he was in on were runs, and Phillips had hoped to see a deep ball to test his knee.
"I would have loved to have seen a long ball," said safeties coach Dave Merritt, who Phillips has stood next to during each practice to learn Perry Fewell's new defense. "Because that is when you are really going to be able to tell can he get back there to make the play and I truly believe he will be able to do it from what I saw in individual [drills]. I think the kid is going to pick right back up."
"We are going to spoon-feed him and take it slow," Merritt added. "[But this was] a big lift, a big boost."
As the team enters the second week of training camp, Phillips provided the Giants with an inspirational boost. He hasn't played since he had 10 tackles and two interceptions against Tony Romo and the Cowboys in Week 2 last year. It was after that game that Phillips learned an MRI revealed his knee had worsened and that he needed season-ending surgery.
Phillips went through training camp with the pain in his knee hoping he could play through it last year.
"I was battling that injury throughout training camp and we were trying to ride it until the wheels fell off," Phillips said. "And the wheels fell off too early."
Now the wheels are back on and it feels good for everybody even if they are training wheels at the moment.
Coughlin said Phillips will continue to work once-a-day. The coach already said he wasn't thinking about using the safety in next Monday's preseason opener against the Jets.
"Feed him back in slow, real slow," Coughlin said. "He did OK. He hit the ground once, which was good. If we can get through a couple of days here, we'll do some more with him."
Phillips said the only thing that felt weird was that he had to get his vision back as far as seeing plays develop. But Clark Kent has plenty of time to work his way back into Superman form.
"There is plenty of time," Coughlin said of Phillips working his way back to the first team. "The key is to be ready for that kind of grind. It been a long time since he's done that so that has to be built up."