2-time All-Pro offers staunch warning to Jaelan Phillips about injury recovery

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Two-time All-Pro pass rusher Shawne Merriman offered a warning for Miami Dolphins young pass rusher Jaelan Phillips, who is recovering from a ruptured Achilles that he suffered in the 2023 season.

Phillips, 24, was a first-round pick by the Dolphins in the 2021 NFL Draft. He was quickly turning into one of the game’s best young pass rushers before the injury, tallying 22.0 sacks in his first 42 NFL games.

Merriman, who dealt with an Achilles injury in his career that stopped his ascent as one of the game’s best defenders, spoke about Phillips and his recovery.

“I was praying for him, man, because he was an up-and-coming guy coming off the edge,” Merriman said. “I love his game.”

The Defensive Rookie of the Year in the 2005 NFL season, Merriman became a two-time All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler in his first three NFL seasons. He recorded double-digit sacks in each of those campaigns, but he never found that form again after playing just one game in the 2008 season.

He suffered an Achilles injury later on in his career that essentially forced him out of the NFL before he turned 30.

“The last thing you wanna do is rush that, because it is by far, in my opinion — because I’ve had a knee reconstruction, I’ve had shoulders, I’ve had the Achilles — the Achilles is the worst one to come back from,” Merriman said.

Phillips was injured in Week 12 of the 2023 season against the New York Jets. Since Miami added pass rusher Shaquil Barrett in free agency this offseason, the team could play things safe with Phillips – and fellow pass rusher Bradley Chubb – as they both recover from season-ending injuries.

Merriman shared the mental side of recovering from an Achilles injury, which he believes will be difficult for the Dolphins young star.

“Even when you get back healthy, there’s a mental thing,” he said. “‘If I push off of this too hard or if I step back on the wrong, I’m gonna tear it again?’ So you gotta get over the mental part of it. That’s gonna be a difficult thing for him.”

There certainly will be some fear that the injury could happen again, and Merriman spoke about making sure that Phillips is good to go so he doesn’t cause other injuries as a result of compensating for his Achilles.

“The compensation,” Merriman said regarding another challenge in coming back. “This is why he has to take his time on getting back, because if he doesn’t, you could tear the other one, or you’re gonna have the opposite knee is gonna start hurting, the opposite side of your back is gonna start hurting, you’re gonna be pulling the opposite groin. So you have to watch the compensation, man.

“But he’ll be back, he’ll be fine. But he has to take his time getting back because if not, you can risk other major things happening.”

After posting 8.5 sacks in 17 games as a rookie back in the 2021 campaign, Phillips started 15 of the 17 games he played in during the 2022 season, recording seven sacks and a career-high 61 combined tackles. The former University of Miami standout has quickly become one of the most reliable players on the Dolphins defense.

With Andrew Van Ginkel leaving Miami in free agency, the Dolphins are hoping that Phillips can return to his peak form at some point in 2024.

In the 2023 season, Phillips was limited to just eight games due to injuries, but he made his impact felt in a big way when he was in the lineup. The third-year defender had his first career interception this past season and also recorded 6.5 sacks.

Hopefully, Merriman’s advice will help Phillips and the Dolphins approach the young star’s recovery in the best way possible.

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Peter is a graduate of Quinnipiac University where he covered the MAAC and college basketball for three years. He has worked for NBC Sports, the Connecticut Sun and the Meriden Record-Journal covering basketball and other major sports. Follow him on Twitter @peterdewey2.