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Opinion: Is Harrison Phillips ready to be 1T1 for the Bills in 2022?

If they re-sign him, of course

Down the stretch run of the 2021 regular season and in the playoffs, Harrison Phillips was the starting one-technique defensive tackle for the Buffalo Bills. General manager Brandon Beane said that previous starter Star Lotulelei was notably affected by his mid-season COVID-19 diagnosis and wasn’t the same player he was earlier in the year. Apart from that, however, Harrison Phillips just played really well at the end of the year. Phillips was 21st in the NFL in run stop percentage amongst defensive tackles with 85 run defense snaps (10.0%) and showed well as a pass rusher, with flashes against the Atlanta Falcons (6 pressures and a sack) and the New York Jets (three pressures, a QB hit and two hurries).

However, with Phillips scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, the question of “is Phillips ready to be the first string full-time one technique defensive tackle in 2022” takes a back seat to “will the Bills even re-sign him at all.”

The re-signing question has been tackled by me previously and will be continued to be tackled by other writers this offseason at Buffalo Rumblings. The titular question of starting, however, is a different question entirely and I’m going to take what may be an unpopular stance:

I would like to re-sign Phillips, but given what a strong two-gapping one-technique defensive tackle could do for this defense, I’d prefer to see a different starter.

The two players most affected on the defense by the presence of a two-gapping defensive tackle are the defensive tackle next to them and the linebacker behind. Ed Oliver benefited from Star’s return and Phillips’s emergence this year as most of Bills Mafia thought he would. Tremaine Edmunds remains a polarizing figure, but a review of the film outlines that he was asked to cover two gaps more often that I would have preferred given his skillset. A strong defensive tackle in the mold of UConn’s Travis Jones or Alabama’s Phiderian Mathis could help continue Oliver’s ascension to an elite three-technique tackle while allowing the Bills to ask Tremaine Edmunds to do fewer two-gap reads from the linebacker position. Ray Lewis openly pined for Haloti Ngata for a reason, and it’s because he knew how much having a player that stout in front of them matters. The ability of a defensive tackle to disengage at will to his left and right allows gap shooting from the second level and it could help finally quell the questions that pop up about Tremaine Edmunds.

It shouldn’t be misconstrued that Harrison Phillips cannot have effective moments of two-gap defensive tackle play. It’s just not something that I would consider to be an elite trait of his and I think for this defense to take a step forward in 2022, it might be the elite trait the Bills need on the defensive line.

…and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter @BruceExclusive and you can find new episodes of “The Bruce Exclusive” every Thursday on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!

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