Darius Philon brings ‘crazy’ energy at DE for Arizona Cardinals
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Darius Philon brings up his draft position when asked about his 2018 season. Because he’s four years removed from being drafted and just earned a handsome second NFL contract, that it still bugs him means something.
“I wasn’t my best (last) season. I can always do better and I can always achieve better,” the former Los Angeles Chargers defensive lineman said Saturday. “The thing is, me being … on a rookie contract, I produced as a sixth-round draft pick and I did things that people probably thought I’d never (do).”
Philon has reason to feel under-appreciated.
As a recruit out high school in Mobile, Ala., he received an offer to join the Alabama Crimson Tide before they pulled his scholarship, asking him to pay his own way instead, according to the Los Angeles Times. He ended up committing to Arkansas instead.
So is there’s a chip on Philon’s shoulder? Got to be.
“I always had a chip on my shoulder playing football,” Philon said. “If you don’t play this game with a chip, you can’t get hurt out there on that field. I always had a chip, I always had the attitude to go out and be successful. Don’t be denied.”
For the Arizona Cardinals, self motivation is good to hear coming from a key offseason free agent addition, one paid $10 million over two years reportedly thanks to a $4 million signing bonus.
“I think Darius is going to be great for us. He has a very good get-off and very disruptive throughout camp,” nose tackle Corey Peters said.
Peters is the calm, wise leader along the line. Outside linebacker Chandler Jones is the Cardinals’ humble superstar. Middle linebacker Jordan Hicks is the brains of the defensive operation, and corner Patrick Peterson is the confident Pro Bowler.
But much like new cornerback Robert Alford and safety D.J. Swearinger, the trash talkers in the defensive backfield, Philon brings a new spice to the personalities on the defensive unit.
“He’s crazy,” Peters said. “It is what it is. I mean, he’s high energy, funny, good personality. Good type of crazy. I think every defense needs a little bit of crazy on it so I’m looking forward to spending the year with him. Provides a lot of entertainment, a lot of laughs.
“I can’t wait ’til we line up on an actual game day so I can see how he is then.”
The 25-year-old Philon could still have room to improve. Over the last two years with the Chargers, the 6-foot-1, 286-pound defensive lineman recorded 8.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, 18 quarterback hits, two forced fumbles and 64 tackles.
Under defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, he’s playing defensive end in a 3-4 defense that’s been themed as an attacking scheme by coaches and players. It fits Philon, who was signed as Arizona prepared to lose defensive tackle Rodney Gunter in free agency and readied to start 2019 without Robert Nkemdiche, the 2016 first-round pick who struggled to assimilate to the pro game and tore his ACL in December.
The Cardinals eventually re-signed Gunter later in free agency and decided to waive Nkemdiche a week into training camp after he reported out of shape. Two recent traffic-related police stops on top of his inconsistent play on the field in three seasons didn’t help Nkemdiche’s cause.
“I’m hopeful that the situation will kind of be a wakeup call for him because he has as much talent as anybody in the NFL, and I mean that,” Peters said of Nkemdiche.
“It’s in his hands.”
The Cardinals likely saw this as an end-of-the-line offseason for Nkemdiche. They readied to move forward from the 29th overall draft pick in 2016 by committing a lot of money up front to the 2015 draft’s 192nd overall selection in Philon, a player who unlike Nkemdiche has proved that success and relative fortune hasn’t stunted his desire to improve.
Philon, Gunter and Peters enter 2019 hoping to fix an Arizona defense that last year got gashed in the run game under then-head coach Steve Wilks. For Philon, the opportunity to succeed in a starting role and get better has a lot to do with the situation around him.
“It’s a great room. We got great guys. We stick together as one,” he said. “We’re going to learn from one another … it’s no hard feelings when you’re being told from your peers that you’re messing up or you’re doing wrong.
“It’s just something that we’re striving (for) in that room, is excellence. Perfection, each and every day, we’re pushing each other to it.”