Rookie undrafted wide receiver Shakim Phillips seemed on the verge eliminating himself from the discussion of earning himself a spot on the practice squad with the Pittsburgh Steelers after experiencing a number of drops, as well as other missed opportunities to make plays over the course of a game and a half.
But he began to redeem himself late in the fourth quarter of the Steelers’ last preseason game, which included an impressive catch that proved to be the game-winning touchdown with under four minutes to play.
It may still prove to be the case that his inconsistency will be his undoing with respect to his future employment, but the four-game suspension for Martavis Bryant makes it more likely that he will have at least a temporary spot on the practice squad to start the season.
Phillips received his fair share of targets against the Packers, but he didn’t always make the most of them. On two consecutive plays in the middle of the third quarter, for example, he was targeted by Landry Jones, but he failed to make a play on either one.
On second and nine from the Packers’ 28-yard line, Jones tossed a back shoulder throw to Phillips inside the 10 near the left side, but rather than attacking the pass, he continued his back pedal. Worst of all is that he allowed the cornerback to read him, and didn’t even have to turn his back to the receiver to play the ball and deflect it away. If he had simply been aggressive at the catch point, the Steelers could have had first and goal.
On the next play, facing third and nine, Jones went back to Phillips in hopes of converting and moving the chains, but he was unable to hang on to the pass as the cornerback aggressively played the pocket and prevented him from getting a solid grip on the pass. Phillips had difficulty ever separating from the cornerback as well, even as he tried to push off.
Early in the fourth quarter, Jones targeted Phillips down the field on third and 16 on a ball that was delivered behind the receiver. He tried to adjust to the pass, but was not able to do so well enough to come down with the catch. While the throw wasn’t his fault, and it would have been a difficult catch, he had adequate time to adjust. These are the sorts of plays that get you attention.
Phillips did have two receptions on the game-winning drive, starting with a 10-yard catch on third and seven. Lined up off to the right as the receiver off the line in a bunch set, Phillips used his coverage well to make the easy reception and made sure to get enough yardage for the first down.
Of course, he put the exclamation point at the end of his day with a 20-yard touchdown reception in the far right corner of the end zone, climbing over the back of the cornerback in order to bring the ball in.
It was an impressive catch on a good throw. But to suggest that it overrides his inability to hang on to the ball in less difficult circumstances would be inaccurate. The greatest thing going for him in his favor is that the Steelers carried eight wide receivers, including the practice squad, last year. Right now how looks to be starting the regular season as the seventh with Bryant suspended.