OWINGS MILLS — It was a long, frustrating rookie season for Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Jason Phillips.
First, the former Texas Christian star tore his lateral meniscus in his left knee while running the 40-yard dash during the NFL scouting combine.
As a result, the former four-time All-Mountain West Conference selection fell to the Ravens in the fifth round.
Then, he was sidelined at every minicamp following the draft and limited during training camp. Ultimately, he spent the entire season on the shelf on injured reserve.
Since the lost season, Phillips has been gaining strength in his knee and appeared more instinctive and fluid during the Ravens’ organized team activities and minicamps.
"Going into this, I was a little nervous," Phillips said. "But after getting a couple practices under my belt and moving around on it in actual football situations where I’m actually on the field going against an offense, I feel pretty good. I’ve cut off of it I’ve ran on it for the last year, so pretty sure I’m straight on it."
The difference is noticeable.
Phillips is getting to the football on a consistent basis and emerging as a potential contender for playing time at inside linebacker as he tries to regain ground on returning starter Dannell Ellerbe and former third-round pick Tavares Gooden.
"I think we’re seeing a healthy Jason Phillips for the first time," coach John Harbaugh said." You know, last year he was really fighting the knee. He wasn’t even here at this time last year. He’s quick and slippery and a good football player."
For Phillips, it’s a matter of proving himself on this level after a prolific college career.
As the only player in league history to be named all-conference four times in a row, Phillips led his team in tackles three times and was second the year he didn’t lead the team.
He started all 50 games he played, recording 315 tackles, 7 1/2 sacks, 38 tackles for losses, one forced fumble, two interceptions and 11 pass deflections.
None of that gives him any currency, though, in the NFL.
"As far as what I’ve got to do to make it here, we’re real deep at linebacker, so I’m just going to have to come in and really impress," Phillips said. "We’ve got a lot of guys on this team that can play so it’s going to be my job to get in great shape and come into camp and really show out."
Phillips said he won’t make the mistake of getting caught up in the numbers game.
"You can’t count spots," he said. "This is the NFL; anywhere you go there’s going to be players like that, so you just have to come in with the right mindset. Just do your thing, don’t try to push too hard. Just do what you’ve got to do to make yourself as much a part of this team as possible. Then, whatever happens, happens."
For Phillips to garner some playing time, he’ll have to achieve some distinction on special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg’s coverage units.
“It’s definitely something I’m going to have to do," Phillips said. "Like I said, we’re real deep at linebacker, we’ve got a lot of good players, so special teams is definitely a place where I’m going to have to make an impact. Just the fact that I can run pretty good now that my knee is back where it needs to be, special teams is going to be one of my main focuses coming into camp.”