We blogged a little earlier about the physical changes that Phillip Dillard went through leading up to the 2009 season. There was also a change in maturity.

In January of 2009, Dillard’s mother passed away. And that was during a rough time for him as a football player having just missed the last few games of the ’08 season with an ankle injury. But his mother’s passing changed him.

“I told her that I was going to do something that would honor the family and stay out of trouble and do the right thing,” he said. “So all I had to do was work and not complain and not moan, knock the attitude, show great character, be happy, and not be a cancer in the locker room. And not be mad because things don’t go my way because that is just how life goes. Things don’t always go your way so I am going to have to work through that to be a man. And that is what I did and it worked out for the best.”

He wound up winning back a starting job on the Nebraska defense and even won the Tom Novak Award given to the player who “best exemplifies courage and determination despite all odds in the manner of Nebraska All-America center Tom Novak.”

Did the experiences of 2009 help shape him, not only as a person but as a football player?

“I wouldn’t say it makes me better prepared,” he said. “Everyone has a story to tell and everyone has a different story. But I do know that I am ready to make the transition and this is something that I have waited for a long time that I have worked for and I can’t wait to get it started.”

Dillard also knows what he’s getting into. He said he was a fan of Antonio Pierce’s and was very much aware that the Giants could be looking to him as an immediate replacement.

“I know that he left, and that he is off the team, so I knew that it would be a good possibility and a good fit for me,” he said of being picked by the Giants. “It’s a great organization, the Giants organization is great. All you hear is good things about how they take care of their players and they respect the players and everything. I’m stuttering right now and I never stutter.”

Dillard may actually be quite a bit like Pierce. He’s not known for being a great player in open space but is a tough inside player – “I love being physical and aggressive,” he said – and a manic film-studier. He said his preparation is what makes him so good, along with learning from Bo Pelini, who was a linebackers coach with the Patriots and the Packers.

“He will come into our meetings and give me the pointer and say, “What would you do here? What check would you make here? What do see about this offense?’” Dillard said. “And you have to know it and you have to say it. He won’t get mad, he would just go, ‘No, there is another thing.’ There are always certain possible plays they can do from each formation. But the knowledge of the game that he has instilled in me is beyond reason.”

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He expects to keep learning with the Giants.

“I’m just going to go in there and I’m going to be in there with the coaches, be on his ears and I will probably get on his nerves,” he said. “I want to know everything. I want to know the ins and outs of everybody that we play, and then go to me watching the film and then me being able to pick out the offensive linemen’s stance. Is it full? Is too high? Is it buzzsaw? Is he standing on his feet when he backpeddles? Just everything. I watch for every little thing. I really watch film because I love giving a heads up on the players.

“It makes it look like I’m doing good out there,” he said, “but really I’m just doing my research and I’m playing off of it.”