When Chris Culliver went down with injury, Dashaun Phillips was the next man up. He needed some encouragement to realize he was ready for the active roster.
It was a strange Thanksgiving for cornerback Dashaun Phillips.
The practice squad defensive back had just seen starter Chris Culliver go down in practice and knew the diagnosis wouldn't be good (he tore his ACL and MCL and was announced out for the season the next day). Last Friday Phillips was called up to the active roster, a bittersweet moment for a player reconciling the loss of a teammate and realizing he'd play in first official game just 48 hours away.
"I felt like at that time, I don't know if I showed enough, because when it happened, I had a feeling like maybe I'll get called up, or maybe they'll search for someone else, so I didn't know," Phillips said.
The insecurities were leavened by his teammates – the entire secondary, he said – who told Phillips he was ready for Sundays after the corner had put in his time and diligence on the scout team since mid-September.
To help him with his confidence, vets would question him about the playbook and coverage schemes to make sure he was on top of his game. He would answer each of their inquiries all correctly, establishing trust and building his confidence.
"If they ask me questions and I'm stumbling over the answer or I'm kind of not sure, if I answer the question with hesitation, they won't trust me," Phillips said.
As he progressed, teammates would often celebrate with him after making a big play in practice, a way to boost his spirits and make light of the fact that he wasn't very well-known by outsiders.
Phillips was still worried he hadn't proven himself to coaches – he hadn't gotten feedback that made him feel worthy of grabbing the roster spot over someone else. He had to rely on others who had been in his place just months before.
Wide receiver Rashad Ross remembered facing him during his first month with the team and then again over the last few weeks. The difference, he believes, has been in his mindset.
"[He's] being aggressive, being more comfortable," Ross said. "I feel like when he first came out, he wasn't comfortable. It was easy to beat him. Now, he's more aggressive, has more confidence. With his confidence, it's hard to beat people with confidence."
Cornerback Dashazor Everett, now a regular on the special teams unit, was in a similar place as Phillips at the beginning of the year, but eventually stood out as a gunner. The two are close in the locker room and Phillips sent Everett text messages after each game this year with words of encouragement, hoping someday he'd get the same opportunity.
"Just go out there and do what you know how to do," Everett said he told Phillips.
Check out these photos of the Redskins' defense and special teams preparing for their Week 13 match up against the Dallas Cowboys Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015, at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.
"You do it in practice," Everett continued. "I cover their best gunners and I cover you in practice and you can go out there and cover their best gunners and go against their best cover guys. So he went out there and he was in on a couple plays. I kept telling him to just keep your confidence because, I mean, you go out there and make plays and he did it."
Phillips played collegiately at Division II Tarleton State, where "about 7,000 fans come watch our games." He signed with Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and then latched onto the Jets practice squad before landing with the Redskins at the start of the 2015 regular season.
In his first game Sunday against the Giants, he played 19 snaps on special teams and was at a loss for words when trying to describe the experience.
"It's hard to explain," he said smiling. "It's one of those feelings like you don't want the game to be over. I'm just going to go put it out there all on the line because you never know when you're going to get this chance again. Anything could happen after today. I just had to play like it was my last game. I just can't even explain."
With more confidence, and some experience under his wing, Phillips gets another opportunity, this time facing the team that gave him his first shot.
"It's going to be fun," he said. "It's going to be fun."