Is Giants' Phillips next in line of effective safeties from The U?

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — No introduction was necessary for Kenny Phillips to feel a kinship with the late Sean Taylor.

Both played safety at the University of Miami, and the younger Phillips monitored Taylor's career with the Washington Redskins so closely that he felt an unbreakable bond had formed between them.

"He was my big brother even though I never had a chance to meet him," Phillips says. "That's the way it is at Miami."

When Taylor was shot to death in November during a break-in at his Miami-area home, it only deepened those emotions. The New York Giants rookie chose uniform No. 21 to honor the fallen member of the Hurricanes family.

The Super Bowl champions' first-round draft choice provided numerous highlights during training camp and fared well in preseason games, where he displayed tremendous range and the willingness to be a ferocious hitter.

He showed enough that Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, a former Philadelphia Eagles assistant, compared him to Brian Dawkins, the Eagles' six-time Pro Bowl safety.

"People feared Brian, and that's way down the road for Kenny," Spagnuolo says. "He's still trying to learn the defense and limit the mistakes. In college, he was a very active and a very physical guy, and when we drafted him, we anticipated he would be the same."

Phillips is so eager to hit moving targets that coaches were repeatedly reminding him to pull up rather than drill teammates during practice.

"Sometimes when I see the ball and am running full speed, I have to tell myself, 'No, don't do it,' " he says. "You keep finding yourself having to move out of the way. … It's a weird feeling."

Phillips' desire to play full-tilt speaks to how seamlessly he is transitioning to the pro game. "Football is football," says the 6-2, 210-pound player. "Guys are big and fast, but I'm big and fast, too. Football is the same at every level."

Phillips credits former Miami players such as Ed Reed, a four-time Pro Bowl pick with the Baltimore Ravens, and his current teammates with helping him fill a position of need for the Giants.

"The veterans help me out a whole lot," the first-year player says. "They don't expect a lot out of me. They're just breaking me in slowly, not making me do too much singing or dancing. And if I need help with the playbook, they are right there to help."

Phillips is the fourth Hurricanes safety to be drafted in the first round this decade, following Reed, Taylor and Brandon Meriweather. When he was chosen with the last pick of the first round, it allowed his alma mater to extend its streak to 14 years with at least one first-round selection.

New York general manager Jerry Reese saw Phillips as the ideal choice.

"I didn't think he would make it that long," Reese says. "We got nice value, and we got a need position, as well."

While the Hurricanes kept him fairly close to the line of scrimmage, the Giants are allowing him to play much deeper so they can capitalize on his exceptional closing speed once the ball is in the air.

"I barely got a chance to run like that in college," he says. "I was always in the box, always playing 6 to 7 yards from the line of scrimmage. And people are always asking me, 'Why don't you have any interceptions?' That's really why. Now … I get to run around and make plays."

Phillips, unlike many rookies, is not tentative. He does not overthink. He reads and reacts.

"He makes his share of mistakes, but we never complain about guys who play fast and make mistakes," Spagnuolo says. "He plays fast and he's been making some big plays, and hopefully he continues to do that."

For Phillips, it is all part of honoring Taylor's memory.