As Justin Phillips leans his shoulder into an offensive tackle, he leaves no doubt last year's injury troubles are behind him.
Less than eight months removed from shoulder surgery, the Calgary Stampeders defensive end had what is becoming a normal outing yesterday during his second CFL training camp.
Phillips took turns making life miserable for rookies and veterans alike during one-on-one drills, and he's been one of the most consistent performers this past week.
Consider it picking up where he left off.
"I got a taste of playing time last year, and I really enjoyed it, so I was extremely motivated to get back," said the Wilfrid Laurier product.
"I put on some weight, some muscle, so I could come back here to compete and hopefully get on the field again."
Phillips was finally feeling comfortable late last season after the Stampeders fired defensive co-ordinator Denny Creehan and switched to a 4-3 (lineman-linebacker) formation.
Things didn't start out well, as a hamstring injury kept him out of training camp, and he was one of those dreaded tweeners in the 3-4 -- too light to take on double teams but not quite suited for linebacker. But once he started to get a feel for the new defence, Phillips suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder that required surgery.
Because he was out for the season, the 23-year-old didn't feel part of the team because he had to give up his locker to an active player and watch as others played his position.
It was a feeling he doesn't want to repeat.
"It was extremely disappointing," Phillips said. "There's not much you can do because you feel helpless.
"Being on the sidelines and not out there with the guys, on game day or even just in practice, you feel separated from the team a little bit.
"It's hard for any athlete to go through when you get injured. The group of guys we have here were great because they kept me in the loop.
"From that standpoint, it was OK, but I'm glad to be on the this end of it now, being healthy. Sitting in the stands on game day isn't fun, and sitting on the couch at home during road games doesn't feel good."
For the first three months after his October surgery, all Phillips could do was legwork in the gym. Even after the sling came off, he still could only focus on strengthening his core before getting back to 100%.
That turned out to be a blessing in disguise. About four months after the operation, Phillips could focus on adding some bulk to his upper body, and he came into camp at nearly 240 lb.
But because he worked so extensively with his legs, the speed is still there to get around lineman and to the quarterback. It helped that when he returned home to Waterloo, Ont., Phillips had a definite focus on where he would line up.
"They told me right away I would be playing defensive end," said Phillips, who worked on becoming a real estate agent as well. "I wanted to put on some weight while also maintaining my speed. There's a fine line there, but I feel I was able to do it."
The best part is Phillips is no longer worried about the injury after a week of camp.
"My shoulder has felt good for a while, so I've felt good. Once I got the first few hits out of the way, the mental aspect hasn't been a problem."