Rams' Wade Phillips not slowing down in 41st training camp
By GREG BEACHAM
Jul. 31, 2018
IRVINE, Calif. (AP) — Although Wade Phillips is deep in the grind of his 41st NFL training camp, the defensive coordinator who has seen it all still doesn't know exactly what he has with the Los Angeles Rams.
Until NFL defensive player of the year Aaron Donald ends his holdout, Phillips' defense will be missing its most important piece. If Donald reports soon and develops chemistry with newcomer Ndamukong Suh, the Rams could have a fearsome front line on one of the best defenses in Phillips' lengthy coaching history.
Don't expect Phillips to get worried about a little uncertainty, though. To a coach who has been in the NFL longer than all of his players have been alive, Donald's absence is just another minor obstacle in a major quest for another Super Bowl ring.
"Sometimes it's a chess game, and sometimes it's just coaching," Phillips said. "Seeing if you can improve players no matter who they are."
So while Phillips wants Donald in camp — "Tomorrow would be good, but we're off tomorrow," he said Monday night — he has plenty to occupy himself at UC Irvine.
"It's always interesting to me," Phillips said. "No matter what, even if you have the same guys, it's a new team every year. Just to see them building together. We've got some new faces certainly on defense that they've got to meld in with what everybody else does, and they're doing that well. So it's fun for me."
The 71-year-old Phillips' unlikely partnership with 32-year-old head coach Sean McVay appears to be going stronger than ever in its second season. After they teamed up to resurrect the Rams in one of the greatest one-year turnarounds in recent years, they're focused on building on that 11-win, NFC West championship season with a roster restocked with veteran NFL talent.
While McVay was the youngest head coach in modern NFL history, Phillips is now the third-oldest active coach in the NFL, behind only 75-year-old Kansas City assistant Emmitt Thomas and Houston defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.
McVay lavishly praises Phillips at any opportunity, both for his tactical acumen and his veteran perspective on everything from big-picture game planning to the daily length of practices.
"He's got such a great way about himself," McVay said. "He's always got such a good perspective where it doesn't really get too high. Sometimes I can get a little bit high-strung, if you can believe that. ... That experience is so valuable, being able to have him as a sounding board."
Until Donald reports, Phillips has plenty to do.
Most prominently, the Rams are working to identify the successor to Alec Ogletree, their leading tackler and defensive signal-caller for the past two years. After Ogletree was shipped to the New York Giants in a cost-cutting move to make room for Aqib Talib's contract, Phillips knew he would have to find a new leader.
Despite the additional losses of cornerback Trumaine Johnson and Robert Quinn, Phillips knows he could have one of the best defenses of his long career because of its top-end talent. After he overhauled an already solid unit last season by implementing a 3-4 scheme, Los Angeles added elite cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Talib along with Suh, who will be primarily a nose tackle for the first time in his career.
"Everybody has to be good, but I think there's a difference (between) good and dominant," Phillips said. "We've got some dominant players. I think that will really help the rest of the guys."
Phillips and McVay also find different ways to fill their down time. They shared a mutual ignorance of Fortnite, the wildly popular video game, before Phillips recently surpassed the cultural awareness of his millennial boss, who doesn't have time for much of anything except football.
Phillips started watching his 6-year-old grandson playing the game, and while Phillips still hasn't picked up a controller, he's pretty sure he could handle himself.
Oh, and he also got a "Fortnite Legend" T-shirt , which amused his players endlessly.
"I would have a pretty good squad, I think, if I played," he said with a completely straight face. "I don't know if I could save the world or not. I might win the Battle Royale."