ALBANY - It was a moment that had been anticipated for the last 11 or so months, yet it was hardly noticed. In fact, it seemed as if Kenny Phillips' stealthy slip back onto the football field was rather mundane. After all of those months of rehab, weeks of questions and the last few days of speculation, you'd think there would have been at least a few trumpets blaring his return.
But no. Instead, on the first snap of 11-on-11 drills with the second unit Monday, Phillips trotted out there, came down to the line of scrimmage, where he blended in with the other blue jerseys, and was in the mob of movement as the offense tried to run the ball. The next play, he was up top, playing centerfield, when the offense ran the ball again. Then he trotted off.
Phillips, 23, joked last week that he would be happy just to be on the field with his teammates for one snap. Well, he got 12. He played the first two reps in each of six series with the second group - he was supposed to play in only five of the six but he managed to sneak on for the last one - and although he didn't see much action, just being on the field was a big moment for him.
Phillips was removed from the PUP list and was allowed to practice for the first time since last September, when he had microfracture surgery to help alleviate a patellofemoral arthritic condition in his left knee. The player they call "Superman" was very limited in what he was allowed to do, and the Giants will be keeping a very close eye on his progress and how his knee reacts to his first practice.
"I tell them I feel like Clark Kent right now," he said. "I'm working on putting that cape back on."
There were times when Phillips took off the glasses and looked like his old playmaking self. The one time he was tested came on his second group of reps, when he covered tight end Scott Chandler on a pass route. Phillips lunged in front of Chandler to knock away the ball and wound up falling and rolling over on his back before popping back up and quickly clapping his hands.
Was he applauding that his knee was OK? No, he said. He was disappointed that all he could do was knock down the ball.
"I was really trying to get it," he said. "I read his hips, saw who was missing out, and I went for it. Came real close. Maybe next time I'll get it."
Phillips said he never even thought about his knee while on the field. Not when he was tumbling after the pass to Chandler and not when he slipped twice in the secondary (he laughingly blamed it on his cleats, although those unforced stumbles are sure to bring a few chuckles in the video room). Although Phillips' return to the lineup mostly will be based on his physical progress, safeties coach Dave Merritt was most impressed by the way he was able to play mentally after such a long layoff.
"For him to go in there right away, to line up properly, to get the calls, to run the defense the way he ran it, it was pretty impressive," Merritt said.
Phillips also seems to have retained his physical skills.
"I would have loved to have seen a long ball," Merritt said of the offense's running the ball on 10 of Phillips' 12 snaps. "That's when you're really going to be able to tell, OK, can he get back there to make the play? Right now, honestly, I truly believe he's going to be able to do it. From what I saw in individual [drills], and then to carry that over to the team, I think the kid is going to pick right up."
If he does, that's when the trumpets can start heralding.