For Tennessee defensive lineman Kyle Phillips, the first two years in Knoxville haven’t gone as planned. Whether it was due to nagging shoulder injuries or playing out of position, the former five-star defensive end out of Nashville has struggled to stay on the field.
Granted, nobody was going to play over Derek Barnett, Tennessee’s new all-time sack leader. Players like Corey Vereen and LaTroy Lewis, seniors on last year’s squad, weren’t going to allow a young guy to come in and play over them either. The defensive tackle position for the Vols, however, was open for more playing time. And out of necessity, Phillips has taken nearly every snap of his career along the inside of the defensive line despite it not being his natural position.
With his shoulder feeling great once again, Phillips is ready to hit the practice field and establish himself as one of Tennessee’s best defensive ends.
“I’m really excited,” Phillips said on Thursday afternoon during a media availability. “When you’re young, you just kind of get in where you fit in and do what you’re asked. Now that I get to show everybody my true position, I’m really excited about that.”
Having Phillips back at his “true” position could end up being a huge boost to a defensive line that is looking to replace four of their top six players in terms of production from a season ago. Under first-year defensive line coach Brady Hoke, Phillips is looking to become one of the leaders his coach and teammates can count on.
“I’ve grown up a lot,” Phillips stated, “especially in the leadership role. Being a freshman and a sophomore, you’re sitting behind guys, but now it’s my turn to step up as a leader and a player.”
Phillips’ leadership extends far beyond the football field. As a leader in the VOLeaders Academy, the Nashville native recently returned from a 13-day trip to Vietnam in an effort to spread, as Phillips said, how sports can create unity and bring people together.
The VOLeaders Academy is a program that is designed to combine international service opportunities with leadership education. While in Vietnam with teammate Jack Jones and Vols’ basketball forward Admiral Schofield, the trio worked with children in orphanages and helped lead sports skills camps. Phillips was nominated for a spot in the program by Tennessee’s coaches.
With his trip to Vietnam in the rear view mirror, Phillips now turns his attention to fall camp.
“We don’t have all of the high-profile players, but we have heart,” Phillips said. “I think this team is probably the best team I’ve been on chemistry wise. I’m really excited about this season.”
Phillips enters his junior season with 23 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack, and two passes defended in his 17 career games, including one start last season.