Hokies Football: The Smart Decision to Move Cam Phillips to the Slot

By: Tim Thomas | @TimThomas1996 | Sep 15, 2016
Cam Phillips is the less prominent part of the junior wide receiver duo with Isaiah Ford that have been starting at the wide receiver spot for the Hokies since they were true freshmen in 2014. While Ford has emerged as one of college football's top wide receiver, Phillips has been steadily productive and someone who could end up receiving some decent All-ACC honors before he graduates. Phillips played primarily on the outside in his first two seasons and was fairly productive with 40 catches for 498 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns as a freshman followed by 49 catches for 582 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns as a sophomore. However, the change of staff has brought a change for Phillips with the Maryland native moving into the starting slot receiver role with Bucky Hodges moving from tight end to wide receiver. So far in 2016, the move has seemed to work for Phillips. Through two games, Cam Phillips has been solid outside of his fumble issue with 12 catches for 130 receiving yards and 1 touchdown. While his 10.8 yards per reception is down form his first two seasons, Phillips is getting open more giving Jerod Evans a quick pass option that has been able to either get first downs or create short-yardage situations on second downs. With opponents having their best cornerbacks on the outside, Phillips has been able to take advantage of favorable matchups out of the slot that helped him lead the Hokies in receptions and receiving yards on Saturday night with 7 catches for 77 receiving yards. Phillips has been effectively on quick slants where he has been able to take advantage of man-to-man coverage and quickly get some room for a comfortable catch in stride and then a good chance to get a first down and more if he can make a guy miss. Phillips is one of the faster players of the team and the slot has allowed the Hokies to take better advantage of his above-average burst and acceleration along with his solid route-running. Working out of the slot has also allowed the Hokies to use Phillips on some bubble screens to get him with the ball in space and let him try to make a man miss or at least gain several yards before being taken down. Having a former tight end like Bucky Hodges only helps those bubble screens be more effective in giving Virginia Tech an above-average blocking wide receiver on the exterior. Going forward, Phillips will continued to be use heavily out of the slot with C.J. Carroll and Henri Murphy working behind Phillips and working some opposite of Phillips in four-receiver sets. One thing that will be interesting is to see whether teams look to run either man coverage or leave a linebacker as a spy to try to take out the easy over the middle quick pass for Phillips. However, what is clear is that Cam Phillips seems poised for a strong season largely due to a smart move by Justin Fuente to shift Phillips to the slot, making him a mismatch against nickel cornerbacks.