Even since Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips emerged as starting wide receivers as true freshmen, Ford has been the star as the better receiver and deservingly getting tons of praise regionally and nationally while being the Hokies’ primary receiver. Of course, Ford has deserved all the attention he has received as potentially Virginia Tech’s best receiver ever along with being the career record holder for receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns.
However, that has led to Phillips flying under the radar and while Ford has been great this season, Phillips hasn’t been far behind this season as Virginia Tech’s second-best receiver in 2016.
Cam Phillips has had the best season of his collegiate career by far in 2016 with personal career highs in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns this season. Part of that has been the fact that the Hokies have thrown the ball Phillips’s way more often this season, but that is also partly due to how he is taking advantage of mismatches he’s getting when working out of the slot.
So far, Phillips has had 70 receptions for 868 receiving yards and 5 receiving touchdowns while also running the ball 26 times for 124 yards with an average of 4.8 yards per carry. Justin Fuente has clearly looked to get Phillips more involved in the offense this year and Phillips has thrived with his expanded role in the Justin Fuente offense.
Phillips had a slow start with only 5 catches or more in 2 of his first 6 games before coming alive over the closing stretch with at least 6 catches in 6 of the past 7 games.
Part of the reason for the explosion for Phillips has been due to the fact that Phillips has become more of a primary target for the Hokies working out of the slot as he has proven time and time again to be a reliable option to get open on quick passes. Phillips has also been a quality dump-off option that Jerod Evans has seemed to gain a greater trust in over the past few weeks as well.
While a lot of Cam Phillips’ catches have been for short gains, one thing that Phillips has done is take advantage of getting mismatches against nickel cornerbacks, safeties, and linebackers in a multitude of ways with shifty moves, well-run routes, and a major speed advantage.
Phillips has developed a lot as a route runner and it showed on his touchdown against Clemson when he made the linebacker covering him think he was running an out before cutting up the field with a second move and using his speed to create plenty of space for Jerod Evans to drop a perfectly thrown pass into his arms.
Phillips has been also been able to use his speed to attack the seam and make some big plays whether it be on shorter, quick passes or on a deep ball down the middle as he did with his touchdown against ECU when he ran a post to create some space and get a touchdown.
The biggest thing that has drawn the attention of fans, players, and analysts all season has been the ankle-breaking moves that Phillips have shown that have been so good at times that they have actually done some damage to a couple opponents. Phillips’s devastating moves have also led to a new nickname for the junior from Maryland.
Phillips: Terrell Edmunds, Nigel Williams called Cam "The ankle assassin" #Hokies
— The Tech Lunch Pail (@techlunchpaild) December 5, 2016
Yes, Cam Phillips has earned himself the nickname of the “Ankle Assassin” with the way in which he has made tons of opponents look bad and had his moves actually cause some damage to some opponents including against Virginia. Phillips’s agility has made him effective in getting extra yards not only on short passes but also on jet sweeps where the junior has came up big on the ground in some situations including his 5 carries for 43 yards against Pittsburgh.
While Phillips this definitely improved a lot this season, a big reason for the success of Phillips has been the workings of Justin Fuente putting Bucky Hodges outside and allowing Phillips to move in the slot where his skill set is a much better fit as a smaller receiver who uses his speed, quick feet, and solid route-running skills to create space and make things happen.
Looking ahead to next season, Phillips may be the only returner of the big three of Virginia Tech wide receivers but even if that is the case or if only one of the two return, Phillips should stay in the slot as he has proven this year that he is a much better fit working there than on the outside.
Cam Phillips has made a lot of improvement this year and that with the combination of his move the slot has allowed the “Ankle Assassin” to become one of the best slot receivers in the ACC.
Stay up with The Tech Lunch Pail for the latest on the Hokies via Twitter and Facebook plus subscribe to our email updates.