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Phillips Transitions to Former AFC West Rival

Posted May 21, 2013

Shaun Phillips spent the first nine seasons of his career in San Diego. Now the Broncos are welcoming the former division rival with open arms.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Playing for a new team in the AFC West, moving to a new city -- these aren't the primary issues for Shaun Phillips as he adapts to playing for his former nemesis.
"Nobody really thinks about that or cares about it," cornerback Champ Bailey said of Phillips' history with the San Diego Chargers. "Nobody is going to look back. Yeah, we didn’t like him because he played on the opposing team – that’s anybody. But when you come to this team, we welcome anybody that is willing to put in hard work and go out there and try to help us win it."
So there will be no awkwardness in a formerly outspoken arch-rival now taking up residence in the locker room. But what is an issue is his transition to strong-side linebacker in a 4-3 defense. Although the Broncos are expected to utilize Phillips as a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end opposite Von Miller when they go into their nickel and dime packages, that still means there could be some base package work relieving Miller on the strong side.
After spending his eight seasons in San Diego as a 3-4 outside linebacker, a period of adjustment is understandable.
"It's a little tough that they've got me covering tight ends a little bit more and not just rushing the passer, but it's the first day. I'm learning," Phillips said after concluding his first OTA session Monday. "Just the fact of covering tight ends more man-to-man whereas we just were more of a zone-drop team, so I got to do a little bit man-to-man. But after they start rushing the passer and getting after the quarterback, that's where I shine."
There'll be plenty of chances for that, assuming he ends up seeing some defensive end work.
"Whether it's outside linebacker or defensive end, they're pretty similar positions. The great thing about defensive end is you get to put your hand down and pass rush all the time," Merriman said. "Hopefully that's the case, but we'll see. Everything will shake out in the end."
Even beyond moving from outside linebacker to end, change lurks in the pass rush, too, but it's the kind of change Phillips can believe in: rarely having to face double teams. During the salad days of Shawne Merriman from 2005-07, foes built their protection schemes around containing Merriman, and Phillips capitalized. His career-high sack total of 11.5 came in 2006, when Merriman racked up 17 sacks.
As Merriman quickly faded, the double teams he faced became Phillips' burden. Phillips nevertheless remained consistent; since 2008, he's had at least seven sacks in four of five seasons and averaged 7.65 sacks per year.
"The offenses turned his way and I got the one-on-ones and I was able to shine. So now, it's gone back to that," Phillips said. "They're going to turn the line towards Von and I get to go out there and make some plays."
And that's where Phillips can distill everything -- new team, new scheme, new surroundings -- down to the essence of his job.
"Football, at the end of the day, is always simple," he said. "See the ball; go tackle the guy with the ball."