Class of 2014 First Look: Cam Phillips

Last season, Coach Aaron Moorehead molded a wide receiver unit that looked utterly inept against Alabama into a group that had 3 receivers post more than 40 catches. The Virginia Tech short passing attack became the Hokies most reliable offensive weapon. By exploiting matchups, using counter-action, and pick plays, Scot Loeffler's passing game controlled time of possession and kept the Hokie defense off the field for long stretches.

Despite their surprising success, the Virginia Tech passing game struggled against teams than could successfully play man-to-man defense, especially against the smaller Willie Byrn and Demitri Knowles. The Hokies also struggled to create big plays over the top of the defense. One of the major goals in the 2014 recruiting cycle was to recruit wide receivers that could get separation against man coverage and beat it over the top.

Enter Cam Phillips. Phillips is a 6-1, 185 pound wide receiver who won Maryland's Offensive Player of the Year award after a 52 catch, 891 yards, 14 touchdown senior campaign at DeMatha. Phillips was also named first team All-Met (DC Metro Area high school football) by the Washington Post. On film, he has similar size, speed, and athleticism as current Hokie flanker Demitri Knowles. However, he has much more refined wide receiver technique. He quickly impressed me with his ability to create space, especially by beating man coverage and getting behind cornerback coverage.

Here, Phillips lines up against press man coverage. He is aligned to the wide side of the field as the split end. He is running a go route with an outside release. He beats the coverage through a combination of smarts and technique.

00:00:44–00:00:53

Being aligned wide, just outside the hash mark, affords him close to 15 yards of space on either side of the corner to get a release against press coverage. This is a smart adjustment before the snap that helps get him into position to make a play.

The corner actually guesses Phillips' route correctly, and he steps to the outside to prevent Phillips from getting a free release outside. Watch closely at the 47.4 second mark. Phillips plants with his inside foot, slaps the defender's left shoulder, and the swims his left arm over the outside shoulder of the defender. With the defender coming forward, Phillips takes advantage of his momentum and slingshots right past. This is essentially the same swim move that a defensive end would use to beat a tackle. Once he gets that step, Phillips works to the sideline to keep as much distance as he can between his catch point and the safety help that is coming across. It gives his quarterback a big target, and keeps the ball as far away from the threat of an interception as possible. Many young receivers will work back to the middle of the field (getting as close to the quarterback as possible), and inadvertently makes the play much higher risk.

Here, Phillips uses a similar move to beat press coverage. This is excellent technique.

00:01:37–00:01:50

Phillips next challenge will be dealing with the increased speed and power of ACC corners. Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson will likely be lined up across from Phillips early in fall camp as he works with the twos. If he can get separation against those two, he will be very successful in ACC play.

Besides getting separation, I am impressed at how well Phillips adjusts to the football. He is a "hands catcher" and gets the ball at the highest point.

00:00:56–00:01:07

In several of the clips, he attacks and clamps the football like a Gator-chomp, similar to former Hokie Jarrett Boykin. However, he is excellent at adjusting to the throw and doesn't seem to struggle adjusting to balls outside of that comfort zone.

Also noteworthy, several of Phillips' highlights came via routes that are very similar to ones Scot Loeffler utilized to maximum success with Willie Byrn last season. Here we see Phillips run a fake drag route where he pressures the linebacker to the inside, plants, and then turns back to the right flat. You will recall that Byrn made several big plays against Pitt and Georgia Tech on the same route.

00:03:12–00:03:21

Even more impressive, Phillips is very intelligent in reading coverage and making adjustments against zone coverage. Against a zone, receivers that continue to run linear crossing routes, slants, or posts, find themselves running from one defender's zone to another. A good receiver makes a sight adjustment and sits down in the soft spots between defenders. Here, Phillips runs the same fake drag to out in the right flat that we saw on the last play.

00:04:41–00:04:50

He quickly recognizes that he is bracketed by a linebacker to the inside and a corner on the outside playing a short zone in Cover 2. If he keeps running his route, the quarterback will throw the ball right to the corner. If he sits down in the gap, he is covered by the linebacker. So he adjusts and works back to the quarterback, gets his body in between the defender and the quarterback. He makes himself a target and bails his quarterback out when the quarterback should probably be looking elsewhere.

He has explosive yards after the catch potential, which is critical for the wide receiver screens that can help build the confidence of an inexperienced quarterback group.

00:00:04–00:00:19

Can Phillips play right away? I think his size and strength will be a major determining factor. He will likely grow from his current frame, but I am not sure if he will be strong enough to play as a split end on the boundary right away. His early work will likely come at flanker, where Byrn (51 catches, 660 yards) and Knowles (45 catches, 641 yards) both are coming off productive seasons. But, Phillips' film indicates that he is a refined product and can likely contribute right away if called upon. Play close attention to his production against the Hokies top corners in the fall. If you hear a buzz about him making plays, it is happening against the top guys. That could be a great indicator if he will contribute as a freshman at the flanker spot, as Byrn and Knowles could not get open against Fuller and Facyson last fall.

Cam Phillips' film is available on his Hudl.

Comments

Does anyone know who is the highest paid WR coach in the country? Because when a VT receiver wins a Biletnikoff Award shits gonna go through the roof.

My first inclination was that VT will never have the wide-open offense that piles up the stats that win Biletnekoff awards, but looking over past winners, it's not all wide-open offenses.

Certain Crabtree and Blackmon (who both won 2x) played in spread offenses. I think Oregon State played a spread last year (Cooks won). But, there have also been winners like Golden Tate at ND, Calvin Johnson, Braylon Edwards, Larry Fitzgerald, Carlos Rogers, etc who came from balanced offenses like we anticipate.

So, sure, it's possible. I'm always so shocked at how low the VT season WR records are. Catches: 61 (Boykin), Yards: 962 (Davis), TD's: 9 (Freeman). For comparison, Brandin Cooks had 128 catches for 1730 yards and 16 TD's. That's nearly double every category of what a VT WR has ever produced. Shocking.

Brandin Cooks was on my college fantasy football team and dude was an absolute monster. For much of the year he was far and away the best WR and averaged 30 points per game. The disparity between his stats and VT records is shocking, but he had one hell of a year for a WR.

I don't think it is that shocking, and I think way too much is made of the "no 100 yard receiver" moniker. Frank Beamer wants to run the football, and generally he has had great defenses but they have rarely been deep. The running game has kept the defense fresh. He also has not had the staff which has the theoretical creativity and attention to detail that is needed to facilitate an elite passing game.

That doesn't mean that the Hokies have not had a dangerous passing game. Andre Davis, Bryan Still, and Antonio Freeman were all dangerous receivers that defenses had to game plan for. Their numbers would have been much better, but VT was run focused, and Beamer didn't have the WR depth to draw double teams away from those guys.

Moving forward, depth improved. VT was still run oriented, and catches were being spread out more between the talented Royal-Morgan-Harper and Coale-Boykin-Davis-Coles groupings. The 1000 yard barrier is much more of a byproduct of system and circumstance than a lack of good players.

Loeffler's passing game is much more oriented to higher volume, which requires more sophistication and attention to detail. Expect average number of catches to go up, and average yards per catch to go down. To break the 1000 yard barrier, he will need to have elite athletes that are smart and instinctive enough to get a high volume of touches in that system, and get YAC afterwards. I am not sure if Loeffler is as interested in a vertical threat. We didn't see much of it in 2013, but the lack of guys with that skill set probably impacted his play design. They NEED that deep threat, but the receiver that breaks 1000 yards will be a guy who flourishes in the short to medium range passing game.

Viva El Guapo

All of what French just said, plus I was being sarcastic and speaking about Moorehead's dominance more than actually winning the award.

Excellent points, but would like to add Josh Hyman was a pretty big piece of the Royal-Morgan-Hyman-Harper WR group who rarely gets as much love as he should.

Actually it's the Clowney-Royal-Morgan-Harper-Hyman five-o.

True Hokies STICK IT IN!!!

STICK IT IN Army of Virginia Tech

Fosterball

Don't we also need WRs who can work with a compressed field (inside 10 yards of EZ) and make catches in traffic? Wasn't the inability/lack of confidence in this (other than Coles) yet another reason we had to settle for FG instead of TD on many occasions? (Without that threat, we tried to run it in, right?)

Ryan Malleck. He will be a main red zone target this year, somewhat like DJ Coles was this year for us. Malleck will have a much larger role in the overall offense outside of the redzone than what Coles did this year, though.

Every time I think of Marcus Davis' 953 yards, I get angry inside. He could have EASILY eclipsed 1000 yards that year if he even played at 90% effort all the time.

/rant
(edited to reflect the right WR Davis)

No, I *don't* want to go to the SEC. Why do you ask?

This comment is just as true if you change that 962 to a 953.

Not the bagman VT deserves, but the bagman VT needs right now.

D'oh. Good catch. Pun somewhat intended.

No, I *don't* want to go to the SEC. Why do you ask?

The record is Andre Davis (ala passes from MV7).

Marcus had the talent to easily beat it, but not the mentality and want to.

We put the K in Kwality

Andre put up his mark over the course of a 12 game season, not 13 like Marcus. And, I'm not 100% sure, but the Sugar Bowl may not be included in his total. I believe the NCAA began including bowl games after 2001.

I was just clarifying papilgee4evaeva's point that Andre not Marcus Davis holds the yardage record. He was saying he (Marcus) could have put more yards in his record year.

To your point, I believe the SB (NC) did not count for season stats until after 2001. Plus Andre actually only played in 11 regular season games. Marcus played in 14 total (for statistical purposes): 12 regular, ACCCG and SB. If he were given those additional 3 games he definitely would have broken 1,000 yards.

We put the K in Kwality

We didn't make the ACCCG in 2012, so Marcus had 13. I'll see myself out.

Not the bagman VT deserves, but the bagman VT needs right now.

Good catch...guess I overlapped my years. How could I have forgotten that magical Russell Athletic Bowl win??!!

We put the K in Kwality

Its ok...Marcus made up for it with his elite, high end, max effort blocking....

VHokie

I see your sarcastica font and raise you a turkey leg!

Take the shortest route to the ball and arrive in bad humor.

That was a great dissection of Cam Phillips. He does have a bright future and will give much needed help to the next Hokie QB. His techniques are sound and he knows how to create separation from the DB and beat man-to-man coverage. After an off-season work with coach Moorehead and going against hokies DBs, Cam has the potential to get better and become a match-up nightmare for opposing teams.

French, you seem to know about both the offense and defensive sides of the ball, if you were a coach, which one would you prefer?

Great write up as usual. Really like how Cam keeps his arms moving as he is running routes which gives the deception of someone running full speed & keeps the cb's backpedalin as they are worried they are going to get beat over the top, hence opening up many easy slants/skinny posts in the redzone. He has the tools to be a good one.

UVA: Jefferson's biggest mistake

@pbowman6

I think Cam's ability to get separation from defenders and his ability to catch with his hands will earn him a starting spot this fall. Let's see how he does in practice.

In Beamer & Co. We Trust #Livefor32 #DecadeofDominance

I have been hoping Cam can be an over-the-top threat right away, because that's what this receiving corps needs.

Knowles had that role at the start of last year, but was terrible in creating separation and competing for jump balls. As big as Knowles is, he's better suited for the slot, which creates a log-jamb at the slot receiver position.

One of the top receivers in this class (Cam or Isaiah Ford) need to step up and fill that over-the-top receiver role that we desperately need.

"When you're green, you're growing. When you're ripe, you rot." -Ray Kroc

Lol at "pay close attention at the 47.4 second mark"!

What's Important Now?
The Lunchpail. The Hammer. BeamerBall.
Deal some damage boys

Nice.
Good highlight on his football smarts and finger catching.
Understand about size issues and the indicator that he's ready if gets open vs the FFCBs.
Excellent write up.

Thanks.

Danny caught that ball.

Friends don't let 5 star friends commit to UVA.

I have inside info. - Whit

Acc Football is a little different than hs football. Tom Hanks did great staring in his movie. Beamer runs a 4.5.