Harrison Phillips’s power and selflessness will impact Buffalo on and off the field

07/05/2018
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Many fans don’t follow players until they’re drafted by their NFL team, and social media may be their first time encountering a rookie. When the Bills drafted Stanford defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, I’m sure that his Twitter handle stood out. Phillips carries the handle @horribleharry99but the moniker doesn’t mean what you’re thinking.

Sure, Phillips endured a highly decorated collegiate career on the field, including this list of awards:

FWAA All-America second team (defensive line)
• AP All-America third team (defensive tackle)
• All-Pac-12 first team
• AFCA Good Works Team
• CoSIDA Academic All-District
• Alamo Bowl Sportsmanship Award
• Lott IMPACT Trophy finalist
• Bobby Bowden Award finalist
• Pac-12 All-Academic first team
• National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame Hampshire Honor Society
• Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week (Oct. 30)
• Lott IMPACT Player of the Week (Oct. 30)
• Lott IMPACT Player of the Week (Nov. 27)
• Bednarik Award semifinalist
• Outland Trophy watch list
• Wuerffel Trophy watch list

His nickname was bestowed upon him as a young child, but not because he had a nasty attitude. Phillips was named after his great-grandfather who also had a nickname ‘Dirty Harry’, an ode to Clint Eastwood. With ‘Dirty Harry’ taken, the family chose ‘Horrible Harry’ for their son, which is a series of children’s books.

Over the years inside the white lines, Phillips grew into ‘Horrible Harry’. The 6’4, 307-pound defensive tackle earned his title by playing a blue collar position. It’s a position that doesn’t get a lot of accolades, by a player who doesn’t usually have his name mentioned in the stat box, either.

Nose tackle is a position that really takes a special person. Often times, Phillips’s job is to simply occupy as many offensive linemen as possible. By playing that selfless role, others are able to make plays.

That type of character on and off the field is what got him nominated for the Lott Impact Trophy last season.

 

Strength

Looking back at the 2017 Bills season, one thing stood out was their inability to stop the run. Buffalo gave up 124.6 yards per game on the ground, which was the fourth-worst in the NFL. They surrendered 22 rushing touchdowns, the worst in the NFL. According to Football Outsiders, on all rushing downs, they were ranked 30th overall in their DVOA efficiency metric.

“Fortifying both lines” was head coach Sean McDermott’s and general manager Brandon Beane’s objective this offseason.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=”22″]”The game really starts up front. Down the middle, in particular, you want to be strong and powerful.”-Sean McDermott [/perfectpullquote]

Beane went out and signed defensive tackle Star Lotulelei in free agency, but when Phillips was on the board at pick 96 in the 2018 NFL Draft, Beane couldn’t pass him up.

Phillips carries raw brute strength. At the NFL Scouting Combine, he benched the standard 225 pounds 42 times, which put him in the 97th percentile for his position. And that power can be seen on every single rep that he has put on film.

He has the strength to bench press most centers, and that can make things very difficult in the run game. On most runs, the offensive linemen execute some sort of double or combo blocks to the 2nd level. On this play, Phillips fires out and wins the hand battle. The center and left guard are attempting to execute a combo block with the center then climbing to the linebacker once the guard takes over Phillips. The power Phillips exerts through his play-side hand (left hand) to the upper shoulder doesn’t allow the center to swing his hips through and/or past him. Phillips occupies both linemen, which allows his teammate, Mustafa Branch, to stay clean and make the tackle.

 

Still don’t believe me? Watch the left shoulder of TCU’s center; he feels Phillips’s strength. On the snap, Phillips shoots his hands out and again wins hand placement, but specifically his right hand. Phillips keeps his helmet in the backside A-gap, and that deters the running back from scooting up inside. But while he is deterring with his ‘hat-in-crack’, he is also slowly moving his body into position to fill the frontside A-gap to the left of the center. This essentially baits the running back to run to the left. Phillips basically bench presses the center and controls him with his play-side (right) hand. You can see the center’s left hand flailing because he can not break free from Phillips’s grip. When the back commits to the entry point, Phillips sheds and makes the tackle.

https://streamable.com/sowau

 

Hand Placement/Leverage

Phillips’s hand placement is some of the best in the 2018 draft class. He consistently shows good hand placement and lateral agility, and that can go a long way toward making fellow rookie Tremaine Edmunds look good.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=”22″]You see the leverage he plays with, the power he had with the bench press at the Combine. It is a positive to look at.” -Brandon Beane[/perfectpullquote]

On this play, Phillips is lined up heads up with the center. He reads the zone blocking, gets his right hand inside and near the center’s left shoulder just as the guard comes to help move Phillips horizontally. But Phillips is barely fazed; he plays with great leverage, continues to move laterally down the line of scrimmage, exerting his power through his right hand so that the center can’t scoop to the linebacker. The linebacker, Bobby Okereke (No. 20), stays clean and makes the tackle. It really doesn’t get any better than that, or does it?

https://streamable.com/j6c9y

 

The Nebraska native has shown he can be a force up the middle by controlling centers and guards on zone runs. So teams threw fold blocks at Phillips, and he was still able to stack, find the ball and disengage.

https://streamable.com/eak7u

Mental Processing

The Wonderlic test doesn’t really hold much water, in my opinion, but Phillips scored the highest among all defensive linemen with a 35 (teammate Josh Allen beat him with a 37). But on the field, his aptitude to quickly mentally process blocking concepts will be crucial against teams that run a diverse running game. Here, Washington State attempts a BUCK block, where the center blocks down on the defensive tackle and the backside guard leads up through the A-gap to block the linebacker. Phillips uses an arm-over move to clear the center, and then he takes on the blocking guard and the Stanford defenders rally to the ball.

https://streamable.com/xx0rn

 

Phillips has shown a knack for not only recognizing and stacking vs. down blocks, but also being downright disruptive against them. TCU tries running a counter trey with the left guard executing the down block on Phillips. Phillips sees it coming from a mile away, swims the guard, engages with the backside tackle who is supposed to be leading up through the hole, and because of Phillips’s disruption, the linebackers are able to rally and bring the back down.

https://streamable.com/k38xk

 

Bills rookie Harrison Phillips will be the perfect rotational player behind Star Lotulelei. He exhibits some of the very same traits: selflessness, strength, leverage, grip, hand pop, and mental processing. Phillips put all of that together in his last year at Stanford, which is why he was third in the nation in solo tackles with 37, right behind projected top-five 2019 draft prospect Ed Oliver. But he was the leader of the pack in total tackles for a defensive tackle with 96, a cool 28 more tackles than any other defensive tackle.

He may be Horrible Harry on the field, but that isn’t who he is off the field. Phillips is a man of faith, who is very cognizant of the platform he has being an NFL player. You can be sure he will maximize his skills on the field and off the field with his non-profit organizations.

 

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