Gregory Phillips leaped to snatch a pass out of the air with two hands between two defenders Monday.
He went low, on his knees, to cradle a ball before it hit the ground on another play.
He pulled a ball in with one hand, while on the ground, in a red zone period.
The return to Purdue spring practice after a week off for spring break was a solid one for the senior receiver who needs to emerge as a playmaker for the offense. It was Phillips’ best practice of the spring, by far, but he’d also been limited in a couple of practices while nursing a hamstring injury.
But Phillips knew he couldn’t keep resting, even if the hammy isn’t fully healed.
It’s time for him to make a statement to the new coaching staff, to his teammates, to himself: He can be the top receiver the team needs.
He just needs to prove it.
The slow start to the spring found Phillips working with the second-team offense to start practice Monday, though he did work back in with the 1s later, both at his slot spot and on the outside at times, as well.
“I just had to realize that I have to take it a day at a time. Sometimes when you’re not put in the position you want to be in, you’ve got to work for it,” he said after Monday’s practice. “Nothing is going to be given to you, so you’ve got to make the impression and just take it a day at a time.
“I don’t care what I play. I just want the ball. Inside, outside, tight end, just throw to me.”
It wasn’t a day without its struggles, either, as receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard got on Phillips after practice for a drop, popping him in the chest with his fist. He didn’t like Phillips’ response either because Phillips told Shephard he thought about it “the whole time.”
“Why? Why did you think about it the whole time? No, no, no,” Shephard said, each word getting more forceful. “The hell with that. You don’t need to think about it the whole time. You just need to go play.”
That’s what Phillips desperately wants to do. But it’s been a challenge this spring with Jeff Brohm’s new offense, one in which is loaded with passing concepts and plays. And they’re not always easy to grasp, Phillips said.
There are 10 different calls for each play, Phillips said, and there are a bunch of hand signals that tell the receiver the entire play, not just his responsibility. So it’s maybe no surprise that Brohm took a moment himself during Monday’s practice to walk over to Phillips and get him in the proper alignment.
Phillips said he’s been in his playbook this spring more than he ever has, and that may be saying a lot for a senior playing in his third offense. But he knows how important it is to learn quickly, not just for himself but for the rest of the team.
As Purdue’s most experienced receiver — he’s started games, gotten more snaps than perhaps all of the others combined — Phillips wants to take a bigger leadership role on his shoulders, too. He already does that with his work ethic — DeAngelo Yancey credits Phillips for his own rise to potential NFL player — but he needs to with his knowledge of the game and the offense, too.
“I’m approaching it as, first off, I’ve got to learn the playbook. Once I learn the playbook, I’m able to play faster,” he said. “I need to understand when I need to be there for the quarterback for a particular play because we have a lot of plays that we’re installing. Once you understand the concept, you’re able to play faster. By me understanding the playbook, I’ll be just fine. So right now I’m just taking it as playbook first then just dominate.”
• Brohm said the team didn't have the kind of energy he would have hoped coming off break.
"I think we had our moments (Monday), some good plays here and there. You could tell we’ve been off for a week," he said. "I would have liked it to have been a little sharper and crisper, but there were some plays made, especially on the defensive side of the ball. We were able to run the ball a little bit. But definitely a long ways to go."
• Purdue's receiving corps has had its share of bumps and bruises this spring — Phillips, Jarrett Burgess, D'J Edwards, Tyler Hamilton have all been injured at points — and now it's missing another player. This time for something else. Terrance Landers, who was with the 1s this spring, missed practice Monday. And may not be back.
"There’s some things in the classroom that have to get cleaned up, and we hope to get him out here as soon as we can," Brohm said.
• The injury list isn't shrinking much. Defensive end Austin Larkin, who was a projected starting entering the spring, still is out with a foot sprain. He practiced on the first day and has missed every practice since. Initially, Brohm said he thought Larkin would only be out a practice or two, but it's been nearly three weeks now.
"It's a little worse than we thought, and he's a very good player for us and as much as we'd love to have him out here, he's going to be a playmaker for us, so you have to make sure the thing heals up before we get him back out here," Brohm said.
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