I was excited for the opportunity to speak to Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Shakim Phillips yesterday. If you missed it, we recently profiled his journey to the NFL, an article I’ll link here and encourage you to check out.
In the interview, we touch on his college career briefly in the interview but dedicate most of the time talking about his time since signing with the team on May 12th.
Many thanks for Phillips for taking the time out of his day to speak with me.
Q: You were a four star receiver coming out of New Jersey. You commit to Boston College early in your senior year, transfer there after your freshman year, and come back in 2014. Take me through that. Why transfer in the first place and what made you decide to go back last year?
A: Going back, [UConn head coach Paul Pasqualoni] actually got fired. I was looking for somewhere that would give me the best opportunity. Coach Ryan Day, that was my receiver’s coach [at Boston College], he’s now with the [Philadelphia] Eagles. He actually went back to Boston College, he had left and went to Temple with Coach Addazio. So I had a little connection through him.
Leaving the first time, it wasn’t the right fit. I kind of jumped the gun early choosing where I wanted to go. It wasn’t the right fit for me so that’s why I changed the first time. When I went back, obviously there was a coaching change and it was positive. So that’s what allowed me to eventually go back with one of my coaches that was still there.
Q: Your signing to the Steelers flew under the radar. Did the Steelers have interest in you prior to the draft or immediately after? Take me through that process.
A: They actually called me after rookie minicamp. They asked to work me out. Pretty much a, depending on how well you do in the workout, we’ll sign you or we won’t sign you. So it was pretty much a workout to see what I can do as far as catching, running routes. If they can work on what I have as far as my attributes, things like that. They called me up on Wednesday, I worked out, and I was signed then.
Q: Who attends the workouts? Who watches/evaluates you?
A: A couple coaches and a couple scouts. It was just me alone. It’s kind of like a private workout. That’s really what it is. They just want to see your hands, catching, jumping, route running.
Q: How much, if any, more complicated is the route tree in Pittsburgh than it was in college? How difficult is the adjustment?
A: Luckily I was in a pro style offense so we ran plays like this route tree. It wasn’t a spread offense with screens and slants and gos. We ran the post corner, we ran pretty much the whole route tree which allowed me to be prepared. That’s something I had experience working in just because I went through it in five years of college.
Now, it’s actually brushing up on them and getting better at the technique within the route. The NFL is more about the technique in the route. College, you’re adjusting, you’re learning the routes and you’re running the routes but now it’s the technique in the route.
Q: What kind of coach is wide receivers’ coach Richard Mann? How has he helped you grow during the spring?
A: In a couple weeks I’ve learned so much from Coach Mann. He’s definitely one of my favorite coaches I’ve had through my whole life. He’s an old-school guy and he has a lot of knowledge about the game. He’s very big on technique and he’s helped me out a lot. I stay after with him, watch film, come early with him, watch film with him before and after practice. Just to pick his brain as much as I can.
Q: Is there one thing you’ve learned and really had your eyes opened to because of him?
A: I can’t say one thing. Just as far as conditioning, physical conditioning, he’s big on it just like Coach Tomlin. That’s the biggest thing and that’s what separates him. It’s the conditioning.
Q: He has the reputation of a great coach but an old-school, no-nonsense guy. Is there a lighter side to him? Like to crack jokes, etc?
A: Oh yeah. I would say he’s a guy who likes to joke around a lot but when it’s time for business, we work. When we get our work done, we’re going to have fun. We have fun.
Q: Have you worked at just one spot in Pittsburgh? The X, the Z. Have they moved you around?
A: Pretty much everywhere. Rookies have to learn every position. And then during camp, they find where we fit in. Where coaches think is the best fit for us. So we have to learn everything.
Q: Is there an idea or a phrase that any of the coaches repeat all the time? Mike Tomlin has been known to say, “The secret is there is no secret” for example. Anything that has stuck with you?
A: Actually, that one stuck with me. When you’re coming from college, you want to know what makes these guys great. What makes Antonio Brown great or Ben Roethlisberger great? What do they do, what is the secret? But the fact is they just work that hard and you notice that while practicing alongside of the, you see that. The amount of hours they put in to their body. On an off the field, everything is about football. That’s pretty much what stuck with me. That drives me just to keep working and know that eventually if you work hard enough, you’re going to reach your potential.
Q: Is there a sense of comfort going in together with Tyler Murphy and how has he grasped playing wide receiver?
A: He’s doing [quarterback and wide receiver]. He’s not a wide receiver only. He’s learning it well. The good thing is that Coach Mann is a great coach. So he’s helping Tyler out a lot. Tyler has made some good plays at receiver as well. From my perspective, he’s gotten a lot better. From not playing the position at all.
Q: Any other young receivers that have stuck out to you? C.J. Goodwin, Eli Rogers?
A: I think it’s everyone. I feel it’s going to be a great competition. There no lacking or slacking at all. I think everyone’s good. Pretty much everyone sticks out. Everyone brings different things to the table. I’m excited about it. I think everyone’s good.
He’s another well-spoken player that you can’t help but root for in camp. Loved hearing about the impression Coach Mann has already left on him. It’s always difficult to say with complete confidence but there’s a great argument to be made for him being the best receivers coach in the league.