Saints offered Kenny Phillips lifeline when 'nobody else wanted' him

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- After two years away from the NFL, New Orleans Saints safety Kenny Phillips isn't fooling himself.

"I came here because nobody else wanted me," admitted the former New York Giants first-round draft pick, whose career was derailed by a series of knee and quadriceps injuries.

Phillips, 28, went too long without the phone ringing -- too long riding what he called an "emotional roller coaster" of hope and doubt -- to pretend like he had any choice to make when the Saints offered him a futures contract in January after working him out late last season.

"It was the first workout, the only workout. And it worked out," Phillips said as a wide grin passed across his face.

"It's a blessing the Saints gave me that opportunity," said Phillips, who credited Saints secondary coach Wesley McGriff for extending the lifeline. McGriff coached Phillips at the University of Miami.

Phillips, who worked out in Miami with trainer Pete Bommarito during his hiatus, said he never stopped trying to come back -- though he admitted, "There was times that, man, I was on the verge of, 'You know what, I'm done.'"

"My family, they stayed behind me, they pushed me. Because I couldn't do it by myself, because it was tough," Phillips said. "It was an emotional roller coaster for two years. You're sent home, you want to play, and you talk to your agent and he says, 'Yeah, they say you're a good player but they're scared to bring you in.'

"One minute you're excited and the next you're down. ... It was taking a toll on me, my family. And just before I threw in the towel, Coach McGriff, 'Crime,' he gave me a call, and the rest is history."

So far, Phillips has been making the most of his opportunity.

The 6-foot-2, 217-pound safety has looked very good throughout the first week of training camp practices, rotating in with the first-string defense at times while starter Jairus Byrd is out with an injury. He snagged the first interception of full-team drills the other day with the second-string defense.

Phillips is still firmly on the "bubble," especially in such a crowded position group. But his arrow has been pointing in the right direction.

"So far he's done a good job of handling the system. I think he's in better shape than he was in the spring," said Saints coach Sean Payton, who said both Phillips and running back Tim Hightower (another great comeback story in this year's camp) earned positive reviews during the team's first full-staff review over the weekend.

"I think it would be pretty normal for a player like [Phillips] or maybe a Hightower, when you're removed from the game for a stretch and you've played it for quite a while, there is that hunger to take advantage of the next opportunity."

Phillips was last in camp with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013, but he was released after battling a quadriceps injury. He said he had surgery soon after to repair a quad tendon. He also had microfracture surgery on his left knee in 2009 and missed a large part of the 2010 season with a sprained MCL in his right knee.

In between, Phillips still managed to help the Giants win a Super Bowl as a starter on their 2011 team. He has eight career interceptions, 26 passes defensed, one forced fumble and 263 tackles.

"I knew I was a pretty good player when I was healthy, and I know the reason I was sent home. It wasn't 'cause I couldn't play," Phillips said. "It was because physically I couldn't get the job done. So the biggest thing was get those [injuries] right and give myself a chance."

Phillips he knew he had to be humble coming back, knowing his body wouldn't respond the same way it did in his prime. And he admitted it's been frustrating at times. But he said teammates have been encouraging, and he feels like, "every day I'm doing something better."

"I kind of put all my eggs in this basket, and I'm gonna try to take advantage of it," Phillips said. "It's been fun. It's been competitive. And I'm looking forward to what comes next."

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