Scottie Phillips' determined, downhill running style allowed him to buck the odds to forge a spot on the Texans’ roster.
For the Texans, a team that plans to orchestrate a run-centric offense, keeping five running backs and no fullback spoke to Phillips’ value and efforts.
Now, the stress is over as it's sunk in for the Ellisville, Mississippi native that he's made the initial 53-man roster.
“I’m just grateful to be here with this group of guys, to be grinding it out and just grateful to be here honestly,” Phillips said. “It was a long 25 hours."
Being a part of a veteran running backs corps that includes former Pro Bowl selections Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay and David Johnson as well as versatile special-teams standout Rex Burkhead is meaningful to the former undrafted free agent from Mississippi.
The older players provided a lot of support and knowledge to Phillips during his bid to make the team.
“It’s hard to put a number on it, but pretty much all the guys have been in my corner just giving me guidance, just keeping my head on straight, giving me props when I do good and keeping my head straight when I make a mistake and just move onto the next play so pretty much all of them,” Phillips said. “They just keep pushing me. They see me making plays during training camp and kept telling me to keep making plays and keep watching film and were in my corner this whole process.”
Phillips led the Texans with 25 carries for 155 yards and a 6.2 average per carry in three preseason games. As a rookie, Phillips made the practice squad and played in eight games with two carries for nine yards.
Phillips’ presence on the 53-man roster was earned, not given.
“I think we have depth at those positions, especially at running back,” Texans coach David Culley said. “I mean we have five guys, I’m going to mention Scottie’s name, Scottie Phillips. That guys earned a spot on this roster with how he played all throughout training camp and how he played in the preseason. I’m not saying it’s a surprise, but when we are sitting down deciding who is going to be on the 53-man roster, here is a guy who played his way onto the roster.”
Phillips is a strong back, built low to the ground at 5-foot-8, 209 pounds who scored 14 touchdowns as a college junior and gained 927 rushing yards, rushing for 542 yards and five scores in his senior season before joining the Texans.
“Man, Scottie is a baller,” Ingram said of Phillips, who has run the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds. “I told him to keep doing his thing, keep running the rock, keep running out of the backfield and catching the rock, picking up pass protection.
“He’s a back that can do a lot of things, so I’ve told him to keep working on his craft and I think he’s going to be a good player, a good running back in this league for a long time. I think he can have a long career with his skillset and his mindset, so I am a Scottie Phillips fan.”
Phillips was retained as the Texans cut running back and special-teams standout Buddy Howell, who has signed with the Los Angeles Rams’ practice squad.
Phillips, 23, learned that he made the roster from his fiancée, Brittani Powe, who’s pregnant with their first child.
“Actually, my fiancé found out before me,” Phillips said. “I don’t know she found out, but she is the one who told me. I just wanted to know how she figured it out, she still hasn’t told me. It was just surprising.”
Texans general manager Nick Caserio quipped this week that the Texans only option for using five running backs would be to install the Wishbone formation.
“We’re not going to do that,” Caserio said. “Everyone thinks we are, but we’re not. You can only take so many to a game, so it’s about how you keep your depth on the roster. Do you carry it off the roster? Do you put it on the practice squad? That’s probably more the thought process than we want 26 running backs on the team.”
For Phillips, making the Texans’ roster as an undrafted free agent has a historical touchstone.
Retired former Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster, the Texans’ all-time leading rusher with 6,472 yards and 54 touchdown runs, made the team initially as an undrafted free agent from Tennessee after choosing the AFC South franchise over the New Orleans Saints.
“I get that comparison all the time,” Phillips said. “I’ve watched a couple of games he played and just kind of studied him. I have that in the back of my mind with him being that player and having success, and, hopefully, I have that same success.
“I feel like I am a back that can do a lot of good things. I can catch the ball, I can run it well and I’m very confident in my abilities For me, it was just trusting the process and trusting the coaches and taking advantage of every opportunity I got. I’m a person that just lives with the ball in my hands. When I get the ball in my hands, I just want to make a play.”
Phillips had two runs for 9 yards last season against the Indianapolis Colts with one reception for 7 yards. He had five kickoff returns for 96 yards as he was active for eight games as a rookie.
“I would say I’m a one-cut, downhill back,” Phillips said. “I can make some guys miss. That’s how I would describe myself. I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder coming from high school I didn’t have any offers, went JUCO and just being undrafted added a boulder on my shoulder I would say.”
Fatherhood awaits Phillips. Learning about the pending family roster arrival of a baby a few weeks ago along with making the Texans’ 53-man roster this week makes this an emotional time for Phillips, who posted an announcement of the pregnancy on social media this week.
“Most definitely good to reveal that the same day I made the roster,” Phillips said. “It’s a blessing and it’s more motivation moving forward.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.