Think about some of the most consistent players on the San Diego Chargers roster, and a few names probably come to mind; the All-World Antonio Gates produces year in and year out with a machine-like efficiency. Philip Rivers, always in the MVP conversation, efficiently puts up gaudy stats each and every season. And lets not forget how quietly Quentin Jammer seems to wrack up tackles while shutting down his half of the field. But there's another name as deserving as any to be included in such an impressive list; Outside Linebacker Shaun Phillips.
While some players may go out looking for the spotlight, Shaun Phillips keeps his focus on the job at hand. As steady as anyone, Phillips, in his four years as a starter, has averaged 66.5 tackles and 8.5 sacks a season - those numbers are on par with just about anyone who plays the position.
"I've played pretty consistently every year," says Phillips. "If you look at my numbers, they're pretty much the same. The only stat that's a little higher (this year) are my forced fumbles. But I go out there and play every play like it's my last."
It's that exact "play every play like it's my last" mindset that has allowed Phillips to approach the game as unselfishly as he does, while still making the most of the opportunities he's given.
On a Chargers defense that was desperately looking for a difference maker, someone to turn the tide of a game, Shaun Phillips was there. The 7 Forced Fumbles he generated in 2009 was tops in the NFL, as well as a Chargers team record.
Candidly nicknamed "The Other Guy" by the national media, Phillips has emerged from the shadow of teammate Shawne Merriman and has established himself across the National Football League as a true playmaker.
When presented with the idea that 2009 might be his best season yet, Phillips predictably disagrees.
"I don't think so," says Phillips. "It's funny how you get more notoriety when you make big plays. People hear your name more and they look at you more."
Phillips, always one deflect individual accolades back to his teammates, maintains that any success he has is a direct result of the other ten men on the field with him. It's his job to do whatever the team needs him to do, even if that's not putting up huge sack numbers and making tons of plays behind the line of scrimmage.
"It's not just about me," explains Phillips. "It's a team-first defense, a team-first concept, and I bought in to the system. Therefore you're not going to see me with 15 sacks because I do so many other things for my team. I drop in coverage, I play tight ends man-to-man, I anchor in the run game, I pass rush. I can do a little bit of everything for my team, and that's my role on the team and I understand that. I've adopted our defensive philosophy; it's a team-first concept. I do my job to the best of my ability, and give them what they expect from me."
The Chargers are currently on a team-record eleven game winning streak, have a first-round bye in the playoffs, and are widely regarded as the Super Bowl favorites. But things weren't always so optimistic for the Bolts. Indeed, nothing comes easy in the NFL, and the Chargers had their fair share of early struggles.
Jamal Williams, the foundation by which the Chargers 3-4 defense is built upon, goes down early in the 09 season and the outlook on the team did not look good. A 12 year veteran, Williams, although as dominant as ever, was playing on borrowed time and the Chargers had no proven depth behind him. His loss was an enormous blow to what had the makings of an otherwise good defense.
The Chargers would start the season 2-3, and in those three losses they'd give up more than 30 points per contest. Scrambling to compensate for such a huge loss in Williams, the Bolts would need a few weeks to get the right personnel in place, and as such a new rhythm would need to be established.
"It took a little while to get adjusted to the defensive lineman that were in the game now, Phillips recalls. "With Jamal we basically knew where the ball would go every time. That made the defense a lot easier in the run game because every play would go outside. But if it did go inside we knew it would cut back because Jamal was going to either defeat his man or get penetration and force the cut back. Therefore, the inside linebackers would get to make a lot more plays."
"But losing Jamal made us realize that we had to have a team-first defense, and that it would take all of us to step up, and that's what we did. A lot of guys took it upon themselves to step up and play their role."
Once the confusion had subsided and the everyone got used to the new faces in the huddle, the Chargers defense played with a renewed vigor. After their 2-3 shaky start, the Bolts would reel off 11 straight wins, due much in part to the markedly improved play of the D.
During that eleven game span, the Chargers defense allowed an average of less than 17 points per game. Not only is that an impressive statistic, but it's also a clearly defined goal the defense sets for themselves week in and week out.
"We understand that we have a good offense and that they're going to score points," says Phillips. "We have to do our job to get the ball into the offense's hands as much as possible because we know what type of players they have on that side of the ball. We know that we need to hold teams to 17 points or less, and if we do that, we win ball games."
Determined, focused, and ready, Shaun Phillips would rather not talk about potential and possibilities now that his team is in the playoffs. Don't ask him about what team he wants to face or what day he'd like to play on. He doesn't have the time or energy to devote to speculation; this man is all football.
"If I'm worried about whether we should play this week or that week, then we've already lost. We have one common goal, and that's to win one game at a time. Whenever we get an opportunity to play, we've got to be ready. Whoever they tell us to play, then that's who we've got to take out."
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