Rookie Tyre Phillips is the Ravens' new starting right guard, stepping into the footsteps of legendary blocker Marshal Yanda, the man who brought " embrace the grind" to Baltimore.
But football was not Phillips' first love. When he took the field in high school, he preferred it to be with a trumpet in his hands.
Phillips had a gift for music as a child, and the marching band was his passion. Only problem was he was a 6-foot-5, 320-pound junior at Grenada High School in Mississippi, and everyone who looked at him thought he should have shoulder pads on instead.
Two days before school started his sophomore year, after playing freshman football and going to every practice that summer, Phillips told his parents he was no longer going to play the game.
"I didn't like it," Phillips said of football. "It wasn't something I was into it. It was something that took some time."
It took some time, but Phillips' transformation into an NFL starter happened tremendously fast.
He didn't commit to playing football until his senior year of high school. He started his college career at East Mississippi Community College – "Last Chance U" – before transferring to Mississippi State.
Phillips entered the NFL as a third-round pick, but as was the case with all rookies during this Covid-altered season, he missed a lot of valuable practice time and didn't have a preseason game to learn from.
Beyond that, he had never even played guard in his life beyond a few practice reps in college when he was just screwing around, bragging to his teammates that he could play anywhere on the offensive line.
But there Phillips was, starting Week 1 instead of veteran D.J. Fluker, a former first-round pick with 93 games and 88 career NFL starts under his belt.
"To be honest, I didn't see myself here at all," Phillips said. "I couldn't lie to myself and tell myself that I was going to be in the NFL."
Phillips, who now stands at 6-foot-5, 344 pounds, was always a big kid (shocker). But he grew up playing keyboard at church with his father, James Phillips, who was the pastor. He could play beautiful songs at 3 or 4 years old.
Football didn't come naturally, besides being big. So Phillips quit, and his parents were not happy.
"My dad always told me, 'If you're going to do something, don't quit.' Our family didn't believe in quitting," Phillips said.
He picked it back up late in his junior year when an assistant basketball coach told him, according to the Clarion Ledger, "God gave you size, so use it." Phillips played basketball because it didn't interfere with his band schedule, but his size was meant for the field, not the court.
He wasn't very good at football at first, so they put him on the defensive line where he could just try to bully his way into the backfield. But coaches saw a hard worker – after all, he had worked hard to become such a good musician.
So they started working with him as an offensive lineman, and Phillips took it from there. He decided he was all-in, and worked diligently with them to learn the mechanics before going home to watch YouTube tutorials to learn more. By his senior year, he was mauling opponents and college football was on the table.
"When I got to East Mississippi, it was like, 'OK Tyre, you're here now. Free education.' So I couldn't quit,'" Phillips said. "Whether I liked football or not, I wasn't going to quit. I was going to give it my all."
Like many players at East Mississippi College, including former Ravens outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith, Phillips saw a path to the SEC. He became the top-rated offensive guard, despite not playing the position, coming out of junior college in 2017, according to 247Sports.
At Mississippi State, he became a stud left tackle. He didn't allow a single sack all season as a junior, and surrendered just two sacks and one quarterback hit in a team-high 821 snaps last year. He was graded as the second-best offensive tackle in the SEC by Pro Football Focus.
But the Ravens had other ideas. They saw a big-bodied man who they believed could make the transition from tackle to guard, despite never playing it before, and fill the biggest hole in a record-setting offense – or at least compete to do so.
"Very simply, when you play guard as opposed to tackle, things happen a lot quicker in there," Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman said. "Some guys can make that mental or instinctive transition, some guys not so much. That's really one of the first things that you look at, and then, after that, you really just look at performance."
Phillips impressed the Ravens during offseason Zoom meetings with the way he learned the offense. He put in extra study time by himself after long meetings with coaches ended. Once they stepped on the field for training camp, his strength, long arms and quick learning further convinced them that he was ready.
Phillips is always learning, and he's had many willing teachers. After they would beat Phillips in practice reps, veteran defensive ends Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe would tell the rookie exactly how they beat him. Still, Phillips didn't think he would be the Week 1 starter.
"To be honest, it wasn't looking good at first," he said. "But honestly, it's just practice. There's no trick to it. Just practice. I feel like we have the best defensive line in the NFL, so it was just going against those guys repetitively until it clicked."
Phillips' first NFL start wasn't flawless. The Ravens didn't run the ball as effectively as they did last year, when they set the NFL record for most rushing yards by a team in a single season. Quarterback Lamar Jackson was under pressure much of the game.
But there was a lot to like, too. And best of all, the Ravens know there will be a lot more good days ahead for Phillips.
"As a rookie, at a position that you didn't play in college, it's pretty remarkable," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "He has a long way to go. He can improve so much, but I look at that as a real positive. He's only going to get better, because he's really smart and he's really a detail-oriented person. He's the kind of guy who once he's experienced it, he corrects it. He's going to learn from every single snap that he takes out there."
Phillips was slow to warm to football, but he's all-in now. Asked about how he felt he did in his first NFL start, Phillips said he was just happy to finally play football again after an offseason wondering whether his rookie year would ever get off the ground.
"My first game in the NFL, it was very exciting," he said. "I just tried to do my best. I had great guys beside me and great coaches to get me prepared."
Now he's got to get prepared for Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
"Obviously I know he's a phenomenal player, but I'm going to grind in practice today," Phillips said. "I'm just going to grind, be fundamentally sound, and work hard."
It didn't happen immediately, but Phillips has "embraced the grind" just like Yanda would like.