Leadership just part of the game for Lions rookie Randy Phillips

Allen Park -- What were they really going to find out about Randy Phillips at the East-West Shrine Game? That he's a big, tough safety with just enough athleticism to maybe pique some team's interest?

Heck, the guy played nine games his senior season at the University of Miami last year with a torn labrum and a torn rotator cuff in the same shoulder and made 46 tackles (31 solo) with two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

What else was he going to show them in a college all-star game?

And what were they going to find out about him at the scouting combine? What were all those 40-yard dash times, vertical leap scores and bench press statistics going to say about him?

There isn't a single test or drill at that combine that could fully and accurately measure all that's roiling around inside this wise-beyond-his-years 24-year-old Lions rookie from Belle Grade, Fla.

And Phillips knew that, which is why he did what he did with a clear conscience and not a shred of doubt.

The shoulder was torn up early in the season last fall and he was told he had two options -- have surgery right then and miss his senior season, or play through the pain and have the surgery after the season.

He was also told, though, that delaying the surgery until January could be a fatal blow to his draft chances since he likely wouldn't be completely healthy for the East-West game or the combine.

"I knew that if I had the surgery early I'd get drafted," said Phillips, who has been one of the pleasant surprises thus far in the Lions camp. "But I wasn't going to let my teammates down. I was going to be there for the team every step of the way because we were trying to win something big, the ACC championship, and we were in it all the way.

"I had missed the previous year (with a knee injury) and I wasn't about to miss another. I didn't care about the combine or the East-West game or any of that. I just wanted to finish the season with my teammates and try to win as many games as I could for the university. As a leader, they counted on me."

Raising 19 siblings
Was that strength of character going to show up on some psychological evaluation at the combine? Could they have gotten any true sense of his fierce determination and what's fueling it?

Would they have found out that he has 19 siblings and that he and his father raised them alone, without a mother?

Can you measure the maturity that comes with having that kind of responsibility foisted on you at such an early age?

"I've been a leader all my life," he said. "With football, with my family, I mean 19 siblings and it was pretty much just me and my dad -- just growing up the rough way, all the boys and all the girls just looking out for each other and I just tried to be the best, most positive role model I could be."

So use that as a foundation for what's driving Randy Phillips and then, when you see how far he's come and how fast he's come since he showed up four days after training camp started, you won't be surprised.

He wasn't drafted. He wasn't at the Lions rookie mini-camp over the summer. He was called in to participate in the team's three-day mini-camp, but he still wasn't healthy. He still couldn't show fully what he was capable of on the football field.

But four days into camp, with starting free safety Louis Delmas out with a groin injury and veteran Marquand Manuel playing himself off the roster, Phillips got what he was praying for -- a callback, an opportunity.

He was in camp just one day when he was inserted in Delmas' spot with the first-team defense. And he stayed there, and has played well, until now when Delmas is almost healthy enough to reclaim his spot.

"It's just my knowledge, the way I study and work hard and I have athletic ability to make plays," Phillips said. "I just made plays. Other guys had their chance and evidently didn't do their job good enough and the coaches just kept it rolling. With me being athletic and making plays, and him trusting me and knowing what I can do, I was just blessed. It's a great opportunity."

'He's a survivor'
The "him" Phillips speaks of is Lions secondary coach Tim Walton, who recruited him to and coached him at Miami. It was Walton who saw first-hand what the combine could never reveal.

"He's a survivor, man," Walton said. "He learned how to be a survivor and he learned to appreciate the few opportunities that came his way. He's a great character person, a kid that had to grow up early.

"He's serious about what he does, he serious about the game and he's serious about life, and he takes nothing for granted."

Walton and Phillips both made it clear that while Walton may have played a role in Phillips getting the callback, Walton has nothing to do with whether Phillips makes the team or not. That burden is on Phillips.

"He's been a quick study and he's doing a good job," Walton said. "He makes rookie mistakes but he tries to fix them and tries to keep making progress. And that's all we can ask of any of our guys is that they get better every day and not create the same problems over and over."

Here's an example of how Phillips handles a bad practice. On Sunday night he flew to Florida to be with his fiancee as she gave birth to their baby daughter. He was excused from practice and he flew back to Detroit late Monday night. As you might expect, Tuesday morning's practice was a disaster. He got dehydrated, was sick on the field and wound up being taken back to the locker room.

But he was back in the afternoon, picking off two passes in team drills.

"No excuses," he said. "I have to make plays every day."

No ordinary rookie
Phillips is all business around training camp. He arrives early to study film or the playbook and stays late to go over the things, good or bad, that happen at practice. Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham knew the first day Phillips arrived that this wasn't an ordinary scared rookie.

"It's funny, I asked him a couple of questions (about the defensive system) while he was stretching (before his first practice) and I almost fell over," Cunningham said. "He knew the answers to every question and they weren't easy questions. You knew right then that he was a smart kid and he'd been coached really well."

Said Phillips, "Whenever you get a chance to have a conversation with a coach and you let them inside your brain instead of them always teaching you, they figure out what type of player you are."

As well as Phillips has played thus far, Walton said nothing is etched in stone. Delmas, if healthy, is the starter; that's not even up for debate. If Phillips is going to make the team, he not only has to stay ahead of the other safeties on the roster, but he has to play well enough so the coaches don't feel compelled to bring in a veteran who may get cut off another team.

"Everybody is fighting to make it and right now everybody has a shot," Walton said. "He just has to keep working and let the chips fall where they may."

Knowing what you know about Randy Phillips, would you bet against him?

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