Jaelan Phillips was the first edge defender selected in the 2021 NFL draft, but the Miami Dolphins first-round pick has yet to make much of an impact early in his rookie season.
Actually, it would be fair to call the first two games of his NFL career uneventful, both in terms of the playing time he got and the number of plays he has made.
But while the former University of Miami standout admits the transition to the NFL has been difficult, he's looking forward to starting making things happen.
"Honestly, regarding the snaps, I can only control really two things, that's my attitude, my effort, right?" Phillips said after practice Wednesday. "So when I get out there, regardless of how many snaps I’ve played I felt that I'm still kind of settling in. I don't think I'm completely comfortable yet, so I'm definitely working on just being able to let loose and have fun, because at the end of the day I think that's the most important thing when you talk about success is just being able to kind of free-flow, let loose. I'm just grateful for the plays that I've been able to play and the couple little half-tackles we've been able to make, so it's definitely good to get my feet wet.”
In those first two games, Phillips played 40 snaps on defense and recorded three assisted tackles and one quarterback hit.
That production pales in comparison to that of fellow former University of Miami pass rusher and fellow 2021 first-round pick Gregory Rousseau, who had three sacks already, including two against the Dolphins last Sunday.
But Phillips points to his one year at UM when it comes to a slow start statistically — he finished the 2020 season with eight sacks after not having one in the first three games.
"It’s kind of comforting just understanding that you have to be patient with yourself," Phillips said. "Everything happens at the pace it's supposed to happen at. And so for me, I can definitely take comfort in knowing that I just have to be patient with myself and understand that good things will come as long as I do what I'm supposed to do.”
Phillips has been used in different ways so far this season as an edge defender, whether it be rushing the passer, setting the edge or dropping into coverage.
It also didn't help that he missed time during training camp because of a groin injury.
"It definitely took me a second to kind of get back into things, but I feel like I'm starting to get there, for sure," Phillips said.
"There's a lot going on, the schemes are more complex. The more that I'm having to know, obviously then you start thinking a lot, (and) it kind of slows you down. And so I think it's gonna be key for me to be able to prepare well enough and feel comfortable with the defense and what my responsibilities are so that when I step onto the field I don't have to think at all, I can just go."
All that said, Phillips is confident in the direction he's headed and his knowledge keeps growing every day.
“I definitely think that a year ago today, I definitely wasn't as smart as I am now and a year from today, I'm going to be 10 times smarter," he said. "It’s just all about growth, it's all about persevering and being able to take the criticism and really just build upon what you want to do.”