Tennessee freshman Kyle Phillips fine with Derek Barnett comparisons

Tennessee freshman Kyle Phillips fine with Derek Barnett comparisons

August 21st, 2015 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Kyle Phillips (5) poses for a photo during The University of Tennessee Football Media Day at Neyland Stadium on Friday, August 14, 2015.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE -- Kyle Phillips doesn't mind the comparison.

Given how lofty it is, why would he?

While most of the attention early in Tennessee's preseason practices was on freshmen defensive tackles Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle, fellow freshman Phillips slipped through the cracks — hard to do for a five-star recruit — even though he was wowing his coaches and teammates with his effort and talent at end.

Kyle Phillips

Kyle Phillips

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

He's done enough that defensive line coach Steve Stripling began comparing him to teammate Derek Barnett, who finished tied for fourth overall in the Southeastern Conference in sacks and second among freshmen in 2014.

"Derek had a remarkable season," Phillips said after Thursday's practice. "Just to get praise like that from Coach Strip, it must mean I'm doing a little something right. It's from help from my teammates. I've been open to listening and guidance from the older guys like Curt (Magitt), Derek, (Corey) Vereen, all the older D-ends.

"I've just been taking their guide and having them show me the way."

Barnett's first season was so remarkable it's unfair to expect Phillips or most freshmen to replicate it.

With Barnett, Maggitt and a couple of other veterans in the mix at defensive end, Stripling clearly doesn't expect Phillips to go out and rack up 10 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss, but it didn't stop the veteran line coach from stating how Phillips reminds him of the freshman version of Barnett.

"All the young people in the room saw (Barnett's) performance last year," Stripling said last week. "Now as we're going through the grind of camp, the young man that's showing up like that is Kyle Phillips. Same-type standard: Running to the ball, (he's) unbelievable. Not cracking under the pressure of two-a-days and camp.

"Some young men come in and struggle through the process. Some young men come in and they're just resilient, and it's just like another day. Both of those young men possess that quality.

"What you don't know until you coach them is how they react to the grind, and he has really responded. It has not affected him. Every day he comes with a smile, and every day he's running hard to the ball. There's been no up and downs. He's been very consistent."

Barnett and Phillips, two Nashville products, were friends before becoming Tennessee teammates when the latter enrolled in January. Barnett starred at Brentwood Academy. Phillips, the son of Tennessee State athletic director and former Girls Preparatory School star Teresa Phillips, was a Hillsboro standout.

"One thing I like about Kyle is he always wants to get better," Barnett said.

"He's just always asking me about my pass-rush moves. He always asks me about my bend, the technique I always do off the edge. He just wants to get better at everything."

Phillips was quick to credit the older players for helping him this preseason.

Those veterans rewarded him for his effort and motor by making him the second player and first freshman to shed his black helmet stripe, a rite of passage for newcomers in Tennessee's program.

"I think I've worked very hard on the field and off the field, just taking tips and stuff from Derek and Curt and all the older guys," Phillips said. "I think that helped me a lot, just not having a big head and trying to be humble and just learn from them. I'm not a know-it-all. Just learning from them really helped me."

Phillips sat out spring practice after undergoing shoulder surgery in the winter, but he felt he still was able to improve mentally and add strength.

He's quickly shown the Vols why beating out Ole Miss and LSU to land him was so important.

"He can flat-out run. He has a tenacity about himself," Vols coach Butch Jones said. "He plays with a relentless approach to get to the football, and he's really been challenged by Derek and Curt. I think he watches their style of play, and he wants that. He wants to do well. He's a very smart player, and he has very good instincts as well.

"He has some God-given ability in terms of just stature. When you look at his size, you look at his frame, you look at his length and the ability to make himself skinny and small coming off the edge, the burst on his get-off — we're very encouraged and excited about him."

Even at one of Tennessee's deepest positions, Phillips will have a role, and he's eager to continue to learn under the tutelage of Barnett and others.

"It's great, because those guys are some of the top players, especially on the defensive end side," he said. "Just learning from those guys, older guys that have been there and done that, it's really exciting. It wasn't like I was thrown in or anything.

"I've gotten help, a lot of help, from Coach Strip and all the older guys. It's really helped me a lot. It's really beneficial."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.