Kyle Phillips earning trust of new Tennessee football staff

Kyle Phillips earning trust of new Tennessee football staff

April 15th, 2018 by David Cobb in Breaking News

In this April 4, 2018 photo, Tennessee defenseman Kyle Phillips, right, runs on the field during NCAA college football practice in Knoxville, Tenn. New Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt's background suggests the Volunteers eventually should have a major improvement from their defense. How long that process will take remains up in the air as Tennessee adapts to the 3-4 scheme preferred by Pruitt, a former Alabama defensive coordinator. (Calvin Mattheis/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — The thought made Kyle Phillips grimace.

Tennessee's upcoming football season will be the last in orange and white for the defensive lineman from Nashville.

"I really didn't want to think about that," Phillips said last week. "The time is dwindling down, the pressure is building up."

Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker, right, watches as defensive linemen Jonathan Kongbo, center, and Kyle Phillips work through a drill during Tennessee's practice on April 3.

Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker, right, watches as...

Photo by David Cobb /Times Free Press.

Coming off his healthiest and most successful season as a Volunteer, Phillips has been adjusting to his third defensive line coach, third defensive coordinator and a new scheme as Tennessee works toward its spring game at 2 p.m. Saturday inside Neyland Stadium.

But all indications are that he's off to a good start with a coaching staff that is pushing Phillips to be a leader.

"I think that he has been willing to do anything that we ask him to do," first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt said. "He makes very good grades. Every week on the academic report, I see all 'A's. He is a very good student and a good kid. Very willing to do whatever we ask him to do since I have been here."

That Phillips is among a group of just six players who have been allowed to speak with media this spring is an indication of the trust Phillips has gained with the staff. Phillips used his time in front of cameras to talk about the importance of getting Tennessee's players to "buy in" to a "different culture" that Pruitt has brought.

"I think it's a good adjustment," Phillips said. "I believe this coaching staff has really been marked in on being disciplined, being focused, having toughness, playing for four quarters. I think that's going to help us moving forward."

Phillips posted a career-high 35 tackles, including 4.5 for loss, during Tennessee's 4-8 season in 2017. After dealing with injuries and a temporary position switch from defensive end to defensive tackle during his first two years at Tennessee, the campaign was a breakout year of sorts for the former four-star prospect.

Now he's learning the nuances of playing defensive end in a 3-4 scheme after spending his first three seasons in a 4-3 front. Phillips downplayed the schematic transition, but he did share one way the staff is demanding more from him.

"This coaching staff has definitely started pushing me to speak up more," said Phillips, whose mother, Teresa, is the athletic director at Tennessee State University. "I believe that I've always been a lead-by-example guy. But I need to push myself to my limits to help the team get better."

Tennessee is not expected to name permanent captains for the 2018 season and will likely name captains on a weekly basis, Pruitt said. In the future, Pruitt's plan will be to have captains for the following season voted on by the players some time around the end of the current season.

But even though it won't have permanent captains, the 2018 team still needs leaders.

Phillips has all the makings of one.

"Just knowing that I need to give my all these last few months I'm here, I believe I can do a lot with this coaching staff moving forward," he said. "I believe I can do a lot to help this team win."

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