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August 26, 2009 @ 7:03 am
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Phillips Embraces Return To Safety

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Jermaine Phillips isn't disappointed by the Bucs' decision to move him from linebacker to safety. Instead, he says he's just eager to help the team win. Phillips is also confident in his replacement at weakside linebacker, Geno Hayes. Plus, several injured players will not play vs. the Dolphins.
Bucs head coach Raheem Morris told the media to do a story on Jermaine Phillips Tuesday, which was when the team announced the safety-turned-linebacker was returning to his former position.

Morris got his wish Wednesday when Phillips ws given the opportunity to answer questions about the position change following a morning practice at One Buccaneer Place.

"The way I look at it is I'm willing to help the team wherever they need me," said Phillips.

Phillips, 30, spent the first seven years of his NFL career at safety, starting 72 of the 94 games he played in. The former fifth-round draft pick out of Georgia became an unrestricted free agent during the offseason, but re-signed with Tampa Bay shortly after free agency began, inking a one-year contract.

Shortly after re-signing with Tampa Bay, Morris approached Phillips about the possibility of playing weakside linebacker, where a vacancy was created when the team released 11-time Pro Bowler Derrick Brooks.

Phillips accepted the position switch and welcomed the challenge. He spent the entire offseason playing linebacker while third-year player Sabby Piscitelli replaced Phillips at strong safety.

However, Phillips was asked to move back to his old position shortly after Tampa Bay recently learned starting free safety Tanard Jackson had been suspended for the first four games of the 2009 regular season for violation of the league's substance abuse policy.

"It's no different than when an injury happens," Phillips said of Jackson's suspension. "When something like that happens other people have to step up."

While the safety position is one he's used to playing, the terminology in defensive coordinator Jim Bates' system is much different than what he was used to under former Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

Even though he's getting a late start in terms of taking reps at safety in Bates' scheme, Phillips is confident he'll make a quick transition, and he's even leaning on a player he helped mentor in order to make sure Tampa Bay's defense plays up to its potential.

"I was just started to get used to the Will linebacker position and come into my own," said Phillips. "Safety is something I've been doing for the last seven years. It's just a matter of getting the terminology down and taking some more reps and getting on the same page with the rest of the defense so we don't miss a beat.

"Once I get out there I'm going to do what I do and just play football. Once you think about it too much it's paralysis by analysis, and you don't want that to happen.

"With the terminology and things of that nature Sabby is definitely helping me out. We always had a saying in the secondary that communication breeds understanding. As long as we communicate back there we can line up and play ball."

Bates is confident Phillips, who has registered 535 career tackles, three sacks and 11 interceptions, will make a successful transition back to safety for the Buccaneers. Once Jackson serves his suspension the team will determine whether to move Phillips back to linebacker or keep him at safety.

"It is hard on a player when you make a commitment like we did, and showed it last week with plays we felt like he would be able to at Will linebacker," Bates said. "He did an outstanding job, but for our football team to be go into the season with more than two safeties with the experience that he has and has played well. We talked to ‘Flip' and he said he'd do whatever is best for the team. He's practicing back there at safety and we're ready to go forward."

In the meantime, the void left at weakside linebacker is being filled by second-year player Geno Hayes, who is considered the frontrunner to win that job with two games remaining in preseason.

"Geno is a good player," said Phillips. "You saw him step in there a couple times last year. He's fast and smart. You'll see him tomorrow. He'll be having fun and making some plays. It's a good opportunity for him as well."

Although he doesn't have any career starts at linebacker, Hayes is a player the Bucs have been high on since they drafted him in the sixth round last year.

"Geno has a lot of athleticism. It will all depend on how he plays through a whole half with the starting unit," said Bates. "That's where the evaluation will take place. He's showing signs of being a good linebacker. Now it is time to go out there with the first unit and see where he is at.

"We've had a lot of Wills that run like Geno, and cover like Geno, the biggest thing with Geno is playing the run. Getting off his spot, getting his reads right now where he can take advantage of his quickness. He has a great burst. He's blessed on the burst that he has. He can really run, so it is going to be how fast does he diagnosis the run pass keys, and taking on linemen, and taking on the fullback. In the running game is where he needs to show his improvement."

According to Morris, Hayes has not secured the starting weakside linebacker job yet, but has the opportunity to accomplish that feat.

"With Jermaine having to go back it just creates an opportunity for other people," said Morris. "[Adam] Hayward, Matt McCoy get the opportunity. Geno obviously gets the opportunity, but that thing is a battle still. Right now the lead dog will be Geno, and they smell it. It is their chance to play for the first time, and they have to go out there and do it. If they take it we will be good."

SEVERAL PLAYERS RULED OUT OF THURSDAY'S GAME
Bucs head coach Raheem Morris has ruled several injured players out of Thursday night's game vs. the Miami Dolphins, including running back Kareem Huggins (knee), wide receivers Michael Clayton (hamstring), Dexter Jackson (ankle) and Antonio Bryant (knee surgery), safeties Will Allen (shoulder) and Donte Nicholson (quad), kicker Matt Bryant (hamstring) and tight end John Gilmore (calf).

With Tampa Bay's starting wide receivers - Bryant and Clayton - sidelined with injuries, Morris said their absences would allow the team to take a closer look at some of the younger receivers.

"This week it will be Maurice Stovall, we'll have Brian Clark out there, and a little Sammie Stroughter," Morris said when asked who would start at wide receiver. "All those guys will be out there and we'll get the same guys the same quarterbacks working with the same wide receivers, and we'll have a nice equal battle and see what we can do."

A few other players will be game-time decisions, including cornerback Elbert Mack, who has an ankle injury.

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