ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – When Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway was putting together the roster for the 2013 season, he was looking for players – young and old – that fit together.
With former San Diego Charger Shaun Phillips, Elway got exactly that and then some.
Not only has the defensive end fit in well with the rest of the locker room, he has become one of the leaders of it.
"Shaun Phillips was a tremendous example because he wanted to come in and play and not only that, he's had great leadership that we really didn't know about," Elway said. "Even though his background said that he was a good guy and worked hard but his leadership on that defensive side has been tremendous also."
Phillips has also been a statistical leader for the Broncos this season. He picked up 10 sacks in the regular season – nearly a quarter of the team's sack total. He also picked up two more sacks in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
He finished the regular season second on the team in tackles for loss (10) and quarterback hits (13) in addition to forcing a pair of fumbles and picking off a pass.
But like Elway, Head Coach John Fox sees Phillips' impact as much greater than the pressure he's applied to opposing quarterbacks.
"Shaun has been tremendous," Fox said. "I think he has – not just on the field – I think he has been a strong presence in that locker room. We've had some guys have to step up and understand the ropes of pro football. I think he has given really good insight to that room, how to prepare and how to be a pro. Aside from his stats on the field, which I think have been very good, he has brought leadership to our football team as well."
Drafted in 2004 by the Chargers, Phillips spent the first nine seasons of his NFL career in San Diego. In the offseason after the 2012 season, he became a free agent.
The opportunity that the Broncos presented for him was exactly what he was looking for.
"(Denver) was just a good fit," Phillips said. "When I walked in the door, those guys showed me so much love as soon as I walked in and made me feel like they wanted me on the team and wanted me to be a part of the team. That's why it was a no-brainer for me."
Since the Chargers are AFC West rivals, Phillips saw them twice in the regular season and sacked his old teammate, quarterback Philip Rivers, once in each game.
The two teams met again last week in the Divisional Round and Phillips again sacked Rivers – this time he did it twice. Phillips said that leaving the Chargers left him with a chip on his shoulder and it showed in his production against them this season.
"As a competitor, when you don't feel wanted, it's a fight-or-flight-type thing. And I'm a fighter," he said. "So therefore, I'm definitely going to compete a little bit more. I don't think I did anything different this year than I did any other year. Maybe I had a little extra chip going against San Diego to make sure I dominate those guys a little bit more, but for me, I always play with a chip on my shoulder. It's the only way to play defense and it's the only way you can keep an edge in this league."
And as for being a leader on this team in his first season, that was never his plan.
"That's not what I was trying to do," he said. "I just came to be myself. We have a bunch of leaders on this team. This team was already good without me. I just wanted to come here and do my part. But I also shared some of the knowledge that I've acquired through my years of playing football and I just speak to those guys."
"So I make sure I'm saying the right things and out there not only leading by talking but leading by example as well."