Kenny Phillips seeks fresh start with Eagles

PHILADELPHIA — Instead of drafting a big-time safety in the first round, the Eagles signed a safety drafted in the first round.

The acquisition would have meant more if Kenny Phillips, a first-round choice in 2008, didn’t check in the way wide receiver Steve Smith did a couple of years ago. That is to say with a suspect knee and a thick medical file stamped “New York Giants.”

“I feel like I have a long career ahead of me as long as I just be smart with it,” Phillips said after organized team activities Tuesday. “The surgery and everything went well. I have some MRIs looking great or else I wouldn’t be here right now. So right now I’m just taking everything one day at a time.”

Phillips, 26, is the eternal optimist. The 6-2, 208-pound product of the University of Miami signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Eagles, half of which is in the form of a roster bonus.

After watching tape of the 2012 safety play, the Eagles decided to upgrade. They added veteran Patrick Chung in free agency and selected Earl Wulff in the fifth round of the draft. Still on the roster are safeties Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, Colt Anderson and David Sims.

If Phillips is healthy the Eagles have someone to build around.

Phillips ran a 4.48 and bench-pressed 225 pounds 19 times at the 2008 scouting combine. He was the top-rated free safety in the draft, and the only one selected in the first round, albeit right before Round 2.

For now, the best safety from that draft is Thomas DeCoud, the late third-round choice of the Atlanta Falcons.

The Eagles drafted a safety in 2008. Remember Quintin Demps? The Birds took him off the board in the fourth round.

Phillips was just finding his groove when he underwent serious microfracture surgery on his left knee in 2009. Two years later he was back in the starting lineup for the Super Bowl XLVI champion Giants.

Last season Phillips sprained the MCL in his right knee tackling Eagles running back LeSean McCoy in the first quarter of their Week 4 Sunday night game at Lincoln Financial Field.

Phillips played in just two games the rest of the season and with eight interceptions in five seasons and 41 starts, is picking up the pieces.

“It’s different, it’s a lot different,” Phillips said. “Right now I’m not with the first group. But I’m still getting the same amount of reps as those guys. So it’s just basically going out there and making plays and showing the coaches that I am a starter.”

Phillips isn’t pushing the knee just yet. The plan is to be fully prepared for training camp and the regular season.

“It’s definitely something I have to be conscious of when I’m in the weight room or when I’m on the field, how many reps I take,” Phillips said. “But at the same time I’m going to get my work done. I’m never going to just tap out. I’m going to do what I have to do so coach can see that I’m ready to work and that I’m a starter in this league.”

Phillips is encouraged he’ll get a shot to showcase more of his skills than during his tour with the Giants. Veteran safety Antrel Rolle, his teammate with the Giants, gave Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis a glowing recommendation from their time with the Arizona Cardinals.

“The first thing he said is ‘you’re going to make a lot of plays,’” Phillips said of his chat with Rolle. “He said (Davis) has a lot of little tricks up his sleeve. He’s looking for me to have a big year.”

Phillips needs a solid year to resurrect his career. He’s now playing special teams, which wasn’t part of his job description with the Giants.

Phillips has his fingers crossed the knowledge he picked up over the past few years will speed his ascent back into the limelight. When healthy, Phillips is one of the top deep pass defenders in the game, a centerfielder with ball skills second to veteran Ed Reed.

“It’s definitely been a lot of ups and downs,” Phillips said of his career. “But at the end of the day everything happens for a reason. Maybe it was meant for me to be here. Right now I’m enjoying it. I like the opportunity I’m getting with the defense. This year I feel like it will be a big year.”

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