‘It’s Life or Death’: Vikings Veteran Delivers Hard Truth Behind Training Camp

Harrison Phillips

Courtesy of Vikings Harrison Phillips spoke of the stakes at training camp once the pads come on.

Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips likened the first day of padded practice at training camp to Christmas morning for most trenchmen in the NFL.

After weeks of studying the playbook and walkthroughs at a jogging pace, the cack of pads at training camp reverberates through an organization anticipating the start of a new season.

But while established veterans like Phillips revel in the next step of putting a scheme and techniques together in live-action drills, more players on the preseason 90-man roster aren’t afforded the same luxury and leeway the veterans receive as training camp ramps up.

Phillips offered an insightful glimpse into the dynamics at training camp and how different the experience is for young players versus veterans.

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‘It’s Kind of Life or Death’

Despite being a first-year member of the Vikings, Phillips, formerly with the Buffalo Bills for four seasons, acknowledged his training camp experience is different from less experienced players on the roster.

“The reality of it is, there’s certain players on this team who have already solidified themself on this roster and in the NFL — they’re Pro Bowl-type players,” Phillips said in an August 1 interview. “Their process is going to look different from a guy who knows they’re a bubble player or the 53rd guy on the roster.

“Jared Allen talked to us the other day and he mentioned to us that, ‘Young guys, you’re here and every single time you go out on that field it’s kind of life or death you have to prove you can play in this league,’ ” Phillips added. “For the older guys, it’s more of a progression (focusing on technique)… Not saying you’re more lackadaisical with your preparation but there is a little more wiggle room. So with those young guys, you see the competition. You see the shove in the back. You see the jerseys getting pulled. Thank God we didn’t have any significant injuries… but you want that on your team. You want that competitiveness. Guys want it.”

With the bottom half of the depth chart driving the competitive spirit at training camp, Phillips sees putting the pads on as the final piece of assessment for the coaching staff.

“This is really where the evaluation starts. What guys can handle the mental side of the game is OTAs. If you’re struggling with basic playbook while wearing shorts, that could be an indicator maybe you can’t deal with this. But in terms of can you play in the NFL, that start’s with this,” Phillips said, patting his shoulder pads.

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Bills Passed on a ‘Must-Keep’ Player in Phillips

Coming off a career year in 2021, Phillips was deemed a “must-keep” player on Buffalo’s roster by NFL.com’s Gill Brandt.

“Despite dealing with a knee injury, Phillips put up his strongest year as a pro, earning the fifth-highest defensive grade on the team from PFF. He also tied for second among Bills players with 13 run stuffs, per Next Gen Stats, and he managed double-digit pressures (18), second-most among interior Buffalo linemen. The 26-year-old could anchor the defensive front in Western New York for years to come,” Brandt wrote.

Phillips had battled through injuries as a third-round pick out of Stanford in 2018 piecing together his best season to date. He filled in at the nose tackle for Star Lotulelai, who was signed to a massive five-year, $50 million contract, and won over the starting job after Lotulelai’s return from the COVID-19 reserve list.

“In steps Harry to be that consistent guy, opposite Ed (Oliver), and really stabilized our front in there,” Buffalo general manager Brandon Beane told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in February.

The Bills released Lotulelai this offseason, eating $7.7 million in dead cap, which proved to be a factor in allowing Phillips to go in free agency. Buffalo opted to reload its defensive interior with budget free agents Tim Settle, Jordan Phillips and DaQuan Jones.

And while H. Phillips wanted to stay in Buffalo, he opted to take a three-year, $19.5 million deal with Minnesota after entertaining talks with 13 different teams in free agency, Phillips said. He’ll play alongside Dalvin Tomlinson and help rebuild a deteriorating Vikings defense that allowed the fourth-most rushing yards per attempt (4.7) last year.

“When I had watched interviews of Kwesi and Coach O’Connell and saw the way they were talking and the win-now mindest of what we’re doing here the money stuff kind of became irrelevant… There was the teams that had bigger other contracts out there but this was definitely the place I wanted to be,” Phillips said in an interview with KFAN’s Dan Bareirro on July 31.

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