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Come on, throw a little love Phillips' way

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Nov 28, 2006.

  1. robdog
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    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

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    Source: <a target="_blank" href="http://cbs.sportsline.com/nfl/story/9834812">CBS Sportsline</a>

    By Clark Judge

    <img align="left" alt="Shaun Phillips has 9.5 sacks this season." title="Shaun Phillips has 9.5 sacks this season." src="http://images.sportsline.com/u/photos/football/nfl/img9834927.jpg" />Linebacker Shawne Merriman returns to the San Diego Chargers this week, and that's a big deal. But so was the return of linebacker Shaun Phillips three weeks ago and his reappearance didn't cause a blip on the national radar.

    It should have, and I don't get it.

    Shaun Phillips, the best linebacker nobody knows, deserves more attention than he's getting or has received. But he's at a disadvantage: He not only shares the same position as Merriman, he shares the same first name. Granted, it's spelled differently, but when fans get around to pronouncing San Diego's top linebackers they start and end with Merriman.

    "That's OK," said Phillips. "I have no problem with it. It means nobody expects much from me."

    Which is why we're having this conversation. Maybe people don't expect much from Phillips, but the guy is delivering. Big. Despite missing two starts with a calf injury he leads the AFC in sacks with a career-high 9.5 -- or one more than Merriman -- and leads the Chargers with five tackles for losses, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

    "Shaun Phillips," said San Diego general manager A.J. Smith, "is a difference maker. He is a special, special talent who can rush the passer."

    So why don't we know more about him? Well, first of all, there's that giant shadow cast by Merriman. Then there's Phillips' development. He wasn't a starter until linebacker Steve Foley bowed out this summer after that bizarre run-in with an off-duty cop. Finally, he wasn't a high draft pick. In fact, he wasn't even a first-day draft choice.

    Nevertheless, when he played -- even as a sub -- he made things happen. I remember watching San Diego beat Denver in the rain in 2004 and some defensive lineman deflecting a Jake Plummer pass before making a marvelous finger-tip interception of the ball.

    It was Shaun Phillips.

    I also remember sitting down this summer with Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and talking to him about his next preseason opponent. It was San Diego, a club I'd just visited, and I was in the middle of telling him about the Chargers' front seven when Hasselbeck stopped me in mid-sentence.

    "The guy who impresses me," he said, "is that number 95."

    "You mean Phillips?" I asked.

    Hasselbeck nodded.

    "I don't know his name," he said. "All I know is that he gets after the passer. Man, is he talented."

    Smith laughed when I recalled the story. It's nothing he hasn't heard.

    "Shaun Phillips has always been in the eyes of coordinators, coaches and players," he said. "They know exactly who he is."

    Maybe, but earlier this year Tennessee offensive coordinator Norm Chow -- a guy who should've known better -- was talking about Merriman when he turned his attention to Phillips. Only he didn't mention him by name. He referred to him as "the other guy," as in the guy who's not Shawne Merriman.

    The name stuck, with teammates playfully calling him "the other guy," but it's not only unfair; it's inaccurate. Phillips is nearly as important to San Diego's defense as Merriman and helped anchor the club when it pressed on without Merriman and defensive end Luis Castillo.

    He had nine tackles last weekend against Oakland, including a sack and a half and a deflected a pass that was intercepted by teammate Quentin Jammer. He had sacks in each of the previous two games, too, and forced fumbles in both -- one of which helped turn a sure loss to Cincinnati into an improbable 49-41 victory and the other which stopped a last-gasp Denver drive.

    "The guy is a big-time football player," said Smith. "He knows how to rush the passer. He knows how to bring the heat. He did it in college, and he's doing it now."

    Only now it's people west of El Cajon who know who he is. So he's fourth in the league in sacks; national name recognition with the Chargers generally stops after LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates and Philip Rivers. Oh, yeah, and Merriman. For years, the Chargers thought they had one of the best defensive tackles in the business, but it wasn't until last year that Jamal Williams reached the Pro Bowl.

    Phillips might be up against the same thing, though he'll benefit from increased exposure as the Chargers push for the playoffs. Getting there should be as easy for Phillips as it was for the Chargers when they made him the 98th pick of the 2004 draft.

    "It was easy for all of us," Smith said of the draft pick. "No one man had to try to sell a player, as sometimes happens. It was obvious he was coveted."

    The Chargers love speed pass rushers, and Phillips was one at Purdue where he set a school record for sacks. But NFL scouts questioned his size at defensive end and didn't have a conviction about him as a linebacker. So clubs passed, with San Diego only too grateful to make him its fourth-round choice.

    Smith didn't care about Phillips' size. All he cared about was his ability to reach the quarterback and disrupt the pocket. If he could do it, he was interested; if not, he'd pass. I think we know what happened.

    "It's one thing to have speed," Smith said, "but it's another to know how to bend the corner, have an explosive change of direction and know how to get to the quarterback, point A to point B. He's always made his presence known when he's playing, and he's gotten a lot of attention for it locally. But there's not much out there nationally."

    That'll change. And it should change soon.

    "Yeah, it's important to me," Phillips said of name recognition. "That's why I'm out there working every day. That's why I work with Shawne. He's one of the 'name' players; someone everyone knows. I want that same kind of love. Maybe one day, if I stay healthy, people will know me."

    They can start now.

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