ORCHARD PARK, NY (WKBW) — 330 days. You could say it's been a long time coming for Bills defensive tackle Harrison Phillips.
"Hopefully today [Monday] is the worst football player I'll be all year," Phillips laughed during a ZOOM call with media. "To be back out there, be in the huddle, look around at my brothers and be with them again, it's truly a blessing."
Phillips finally made his return to the practice field Monday as the team put on pads for the first time this off-season. After suffering a season-ending ACL tear last season and going through a long road of rehab, Phillips was cleared for full contact.
"There's so much emotion that goes into it," Phillips said about his return. "I came out, took a knee, said a prayer, and flipped the switch. It was go time."
Phillips was taken by the Bills in the 3rd round of the 2018 NFL Draft. During his rookie season he saw action in all 16 games, recording 31 tackles on the year. Last season he saw increased playing time during the three games he played in, splitting reps with fellow DT Star Lotulelei. Lotuelei chose to opt-out of the 2020 season and Phillips says while he'll be "tremendously missed", this team is ready to fill that hole.
"I think the saying in the NFL is the next-man-up mentality," he said. "The sky's the limit for this defense. Our standard is extremely high and no one wants to settle for second-best. We have high aspirations and we are putting in the work right now."
The Bills defense was one of the best in the league last season and the bar has been set high. After losing guys like Shaq Lawson and Jordan Phillips, the Bills gained some eager newcomers. It's why Phillips calls the defensive competition, "fantastic".
"I look around the room and keep telling all the guys, look at all the rushers we have," he said. "We have some dogs on the defensive line. We have some guys who've already come in this league and proven themselves and then we have some young hungry guys who are still on the up and up and want to take their game to the next level."
The competition will continue Tuesday when the Bills are back on the practice field, and when thinking about his return and all of the rehabbing this off-season involved, Phillips has one big goal as he enters a new season.
"The most important thing coming off something this traumatic is I want to be available the whole year. I want to be available for every single snap every single game," he said. "I want to make sure I"m healthy for the entire year so whatever position they want to use me in, I can do that and help the Buffalo Bills win."