Vikings Starter is Supposed to See His Snap Count Decrease

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Left up to Kevin O’Connell, Harrison Phillips would see his snaps decrease.

The Vikings starter along the defensive line is coming off consecutive years where he has started all seventeen games. Most recently, Phillips snagged 839 snaps, the high-point for playing time in his six-year NFL career. His previous career high arrived with the Vikings, too, coming during the 2022 season when he snagged 694 snaps.

O’Connell, though, sees a potential need to shrink the number down, something he addressed back in March while speaking at the Annual League Meeting.

The head coach was prompted to reflect on his defensive tackles. After hinting that the Vikings may have missed on some free agents, O’Connell had this to say about Horrible Harry: “HP had a great year, probably played a little bit too much for us and we’d like to bring that snap count down a little bit.”

Vikings Starter Harrison Phillips Supposed to See his Snaps Decrease

Are the Vikings really in a position to limit their best defensive tackle?

No, he isn’t Chris Jones or Aaron Donald – few are – but Harrison Phillips is a strong starter who allows the Brian Flores defense to play well. He is rugged in the trenches and surprisingly nimble for a man his size. Plus, he picked up a career-high 3 sacks last year, suggesting that there’s a bit of pass rush within the run stuffer. Is there even more room to grow in this area?

NFL: Super Bowl LVIII-NFL Honors Red Carpet
Feb 8, 2024; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Harrison Phillips on the red carpet before the NFL Honors show at Resorts World Theatre. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The issue arises when we think of how much work he picked up. Yes, some of the stats were a career high, but he played more than he ever has in the NFL. Doesn’t it follow that the highest amount of snaps would lead to the highest amount of tackles and sacks?

At 28, Phillips isn’t getting any younger. He’s going into Year 7 in the NFL, so the Vikings may look to factor his age into their game-day decision making, at least when it comes to shaving off 5-10 plays. The real motive for limiting Phillips is so that he can be fresher later in the season, potentially allowing for more impactful play as the season hits its stretch run.

A bit counterintuitive, yes, but a line of reasoning that’s meant to have the larger objective in mind. Limit Phillips in Week 4 so that he can be a healthier, more energetic player in Week 14. In a perfect world, Phillips would even be picking up productive snaps late into January football.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Minnesota Vikings
Dec 17, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips (97) reacts after making a tackle against the Indianapolis Colts during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Being able to do so will mean Minnesota sees their hodgepodge of defensive tackle talent step up.  

Elsewhere in his answer, O’Connell brings up free-agent addition Jerry Tillery, returning veteran Jonathan Bullard, and soon-to-be sophomore Jaquelin Roy. All have a role to play. And then the head coach looked ahead to the 2024 NFL Draft, an event that ended up kicking Levi Drake Rodriguez over at No. 232 (and with some hype to follow).

Furthermore, O’Connell pointed toward the talent along the edge.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Oct 29, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips (97) reacts after making a stop in the third quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

At that time, the main options were just Jonathan Greenard and Andrew Van Ginkel, but Dallas Turner has since been added. The trio of pass rushers will be soaking up plenty of snaps in 2024, meaning there could be less burden on the DTs, especially when it comes to doing the heavy lifting in the pass rush.

Even within this broader context, though, it’s fair to wonder if Harrison Phillips will have the luxury of playing a bit less in 2024. The DT1 is the clear-cut leader at a position with plenty of uncertainty, so a lot will need to go right if O’Connell’s prophecy is to come to fruition.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.