UCLA wide receivers coach Jerry Neuheisel explains why Kyle Phillips is so special

If you’ve experienced the ambiance of the greater Los Angeles area, odds are you know that it takes a lot to stand out.

The city is filled so much to do at night, and with celebrities prowling the streets, you have to go the extra mile to receive attention. If you don’t, you’ll likely fall into the city’s background.

However, If you go the extra mile, and with a bit of luck, you can discover the magic that makes the city such a premier destination.

Tennessee Titans rookie receiver Kyle Phillips isn’t a celebrity that appears on magazines and on the home pages of popular blogs.

Instead, he attended a major university, located just west of downtown L.A., and a short drive away from the iconic beaches of Santa Monica.

There, he gradually became a standout in Chip Kelly’s high octane offense. While also grabbing the attention of UCLA wide receivers coach Jerry Neuheisel. Neuheisel was named the program’s newest receivers coach in January of 2021, but despite the short time he had “officially” coaching Phillips, Neuheisel still couldn’t resist praising the hard working slot specialist.

“I think Kyle’s an unbelievable human being, before the football part [Kyle as a football player].”

Neuheisel has seen many different sides of the football world. After playing quarterback at UCLA for a few seasons, Neuheisel made his way to Japan to play for the Obic Seagulls in the X League — Japan’s highest level of professional football.

He spent a year there, before returning to the college football world as an offensive quality control coach at Texas A&M. He spent another year there, until he eventually returned to his alma mater as a graduate assistant in 2018.

There, he worked himself up, creating bonds with the players he helped guide. Then his latest big break came when he was promoted to wide receivers coach in January of 2021, a title he still holds to this day.

Neuheisel has witnessed the ins and outs of the game at some of the highest levels — although the professional aspect wasn’t nearly the path Neuheisel dreamed of taking. He’s met countless coaches, played with a number of a teammates, and has coached more players than you can count.

Yet despite that, Neuheisel still looks back on the relationship he and Phillips had, and describes it as a special one.

“As a coach, you’re going to have unique relationships with all your players,” Neuheisel said. “But me and him [Phillips] have had a really special bond for four years now.”

That bond can be drawn back to a number of things. Special moments on the field, heart to heart conversations that coaches almost certainly have with their players, and other events that transpired throughout their time together as player and coach.

But from Neuheisel’s point of view, it’s Phillips’ practice habits that rubbed the former UCLA quarterback the right way.

“The thing that always impressed me was [how] good of a practice player he was,” Neuheisel explained. “It didn’t matter if he was hurt, he worked his ass off at practice because he always wanted to set the example for everyone else around him.”

Because the idea of practice has somewhat soured amongst the modern players, it’s gotten more difficult for coaches to consistently receive a high level of effort during the most important parts of practice.

As a result, some players find it more difficult to translate their college game to the more physical, calculating, and unforgiving world of the NFL.

That’s why we’ve seen more than a few high profile prospects — in recent memory — struggle to adapt to the next level. But according to Neuheisel, Phillips is a player that has shied away from the idea of practice being some happy go lucky playground where you can waste time.

Instead, Phillips has applied himself, and the results have followed as a result.

The former Bruin posted at least 38 catches in three of his four total years at UCLA — with the lowest totals (6 and 38) coming during his freshman year as a reserve receiver in 2018 and a COVID-19 shortened 2020 season.

Phillips also finished with at least 680 yards in two of his four seasons at the collegiate level — with the only exceptions coming during, once again, his freshman year and a COVID-19 shortened 2020 season.

You don’t really see that type of play from slot receivers that don’t possess blazing speed, unless they possess an overwhelming trait elsewhere within their game. It’s why Phillips’ ceiling — primarily as a slot only receiver in the NFL — wasn’t seen as one with an overwhelming amount of height.

However, Neuheisel doesn’t really care what Phillips’ 40 time was, or how his speed compares to receivers at the next level. He believes Phillips brings a skill set to the table that can turn some heads, regardless of how “slow” Phillips is in comparison to the athletes that have dominated the receiver spot over the last half decade.

“You’re looking for a guy that can create speed within zero to ten yards,” Neuheisel said. “On that respect, I’d say he’s better than most [at doing that].”

That said skill set is pretty in line with what you expect from a slot only receiver. But with the NFL placing a premium on positional versatility in the modern game, slot only receivers have struggled to hold down long term roles on football teams — unless they provide talent that a team simply can’t afford to let go.

But Neuheisel isn’t convinced that Phillips will succumb to the NFL’s push away from slot only specialists.”

“I think there’s always going to be a lean towards a bigger body,” Neuheisel explained. “But at the end of the day, playing receiver is all about creating separation from the breakpoint to the catch point, being open when you’re supposed to be open, and where you’re supposed to be open for the quarterback.”

Why does Neuheisel have the utmost confidence that Phillips will be able to fend off the stigma surrounding modern, slot only receivers? It all boils down to Phillips’ work ethic, but also his intangibles when facing certain coverages.

“In man coverage, he [Kyle Phillips] does a great job of creating, getting the DB [defensive back] to stop his feet, and creating separation,” Neuheisel said. “When you watch him in zone coverage, [he is able] to create space and knows when to sit in space and give indicators [to] the quarterback of where and when to throw the ball.”

Phillips’ skill set is one that can translate to the next level. However, will it be able to help the Tennessee Titans right now? With the receiving depth being as unknown as it is, Phillips’ advanced game as a slot wideout could help put him in a good spot to receive some key snaps early on in his young professional career.

The off-season program is still young, which means Phillips has some room to prove this theory right, or prove it wrong by failing to capitalize on the opportunity in front of him.

But one thing is for certain, Phillips is going to do everything in his power to secure that spot. It fits within his character to do so.

“I think he’ll make the most out of every opportunity he gets,” Neuheisel said. “I think he does an unbelievable job of capitalizing every time he’s in the game.”

Neuheisel will be rooting for Phillips to make an impact in the NFL. “He’s an unbelievable human being,” Neuheisel said. “I’m just glad that I’ll have him in my life for the rest of my life.”

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