WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Kenny Phillips is probably down to his last chance.
The former first-round pick spent the past two years out of football, a promising career with the New York Giants cut short by arthritis in his left knee and the career-altering microfracture surgery that followed it.
After a training-camp shot with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013, the calls stopped coming. Phillips spent two years without a tryout for any team.
He almost gave up the dream.
Then Saints assistant coach Wesley McGriff, his coach in college at Miami, called him with an offer to work out for the team.
“It’s the first workout, the only workout, and it worked out,” Phillips said.
Phillips tried to keep the dream alive throughout his two seasons away from the game.
He went to doctors, underwent more surgery — he thinks the last one repaired his quadriceps two years ago in Miami — and kept looking for some team that would give him a chance.
The calls that came back were disheartening.
“You’re sitting home, you want to play, and you talk to your agent, and they say you’re a good player but they’re scared to bring you in,” Phillips said. “One minute you’re excited, and the next it’s down. It was too much of an emotional roller coaster.”
McGriff’s call pulled him off the roller coaster.
Phillips, still only 28, impressed the Saints enough in his workout to earn a contract.
And just like that, a little less than two years after being let go in Philadelphia, Phillips is back in an NFL training camp, playing free safety behind Jairus Byrd and Rafael Bush, competing for a roster spot.
“I came into this camp very humbled because I knew I wasn’t going to be the same guy I was two years ago,” Phillips said. “I felt good, but for me to say, as soon as I get out here, ‘I’m going to get two, three picks’ — I knew that wasn’t going to be the case. I knew it was going to be a learning process.”
Phillips has gotten a little extra time so far in West Virginia. With Byrd sidelined, Phillips has served as the second-team safety, sometimes slipping in with the first team as the Saints mix and match personnel groups.
So far, he’s been solid, picking off an errant throw from Ryan Griffin during one practice and roaming center field for the Saints’ revamped secondary.
“When you are removed from the game a stretch and you played for quite a while, there is that hunger, if you will, to take advantage of the next opportunity,” Saints coach Sean Payton said.
Now, the next goal is to return to an NFL game field for the first time since 2012.
Phillips knows he’s got one shot to prove, either to the Saints or the rest of the NFL, that he can still help a team.
“I came here because nobody else wanted me,” Phillips said. “I kind of put all my eggs in this basket, and I’m still trying to take advantage of it.”