And so it was no surprise, on the day the Eagles released
Jeremiah Trotter, that the 33-year-old Brian Dawkins said, "When . . . I'm touching that practice field, I'm trying to put stuff on the film and let them know what they have in this
free safety right here."
Back in 1996, when the Eagles selected a safety out of Clemson in the second round of the draft, no one knew that all of these years later, Dawkins would have grown not only into a potential Hall of Fame player, but also the team's conscience. How could they? You hope for production and for longevity. You dare not expect greatness. But here we are.
Late last season, as the Eagles made their improbable run to the playoffs, the story was Garciapalooza. Underplayed was the stretch run put on by Dawkins on the other side of the ball. He was a great player, a dominant player, every bit the elite force that he had been in seasons past. He was named the NFC's defensive player of the month for
December. In one game against the Giants, he forced three turnovers by himself (two fumbles and an interception) and had a career-high 16 tackles.
But in the here and now, that is meaningless. Here and now, Dawkins has had an offseason where he missed workouts while tending to family, and then missed a couple of weeks of
training-camp practices with
an Achilles' problem. That he can handle the mental part goes without saying. Here and now, though - on the eve of the
Eagles' opener at Green Bay - the questions have become
physical as well as temporal.
And, the other day, Dawkins said, "I feel like I'll be ready to go. I think a lot of the rust I
needed to knock out was knocked out with Pittsburgh [in the third exhibition game]. And, also some of the things I've been doing in practice, not saying that I don't practice hard anyway, but I've been putting myself through the rounds in practice trying to push myself to almost complete fatigue to get a lot of that rust out that's still lagging behind. It could be a couple of things that may take a little time, but for the most part I think I'll be, hopefully, playing the type of ball that I want to be playing right now."
Yesterday, Eagles defensive
coordinator Jim Johnson was asked about Dawkins. For the entire interview session, Johnson had been matter-of-fact and kind of cautious. At one point, he said he was "confident," but Johnson also called his defense "a work in progress" and said that "this is probably the first year" when there was this much uncertainty on his side of the business.
The subject turned to Dawkins. Johnson was asked if he thought Dawk could be the same player he has been in the past.
"We think so," Johnson said. "As we all know, he's been injured a little bit in camp. I think Dawk will admit the same thing. I'm not sure he's all the way in shape yet because he hasn't played a lot.
"One thing about him, he works hard every day. He'll be getting in shape. You don't see much slowdown with Dawk, as far as his effort and speed and stuff like that. The biggest thing with Dawk is he hasn't played a full game, or even a half of a game. When you miss training camp, you might be a little out
of shape. But he's working at it."
Kind of cautious.
33-year-old . . .
If this kind of thing will motivate anyone, it is Dawkins. The man is as proud as he is intense. He wore the handcuffs that Johnson put on him last year when he was moved up to a linebacker spot at times - "that
little linebacker thing, third down," Dawkins called it - even though he didn't really like it. Concerning that shift this season, Dawkins laughed and said, "Me and Jim will talk a little
later on. We'll have some
discussions." Dawkins then said, "Wherever he needs me, I'll be."
Jim? The linebacker thing?
"I think you can expect that," Johnson said. "There are certain things that he'll do differently than last year, as far as coming down in the linebacker position, but I think you can still expect that."
With that, we begin again.
Eleven years ago Sunday - 11 years to the day - Dawkins started his first game for the
Eagles. It was also at Lambeau Field against the Packers. All of that summer, Eagles coach Ray Rhodes had been telling the
media that the free safety position belonged to a guy named Eric Zomalt, that it was
Zomalt's job to lose. Behind the scenes, though, defensive
coordinator Emmitt Thomas was telling Dawkins that the job was his to lose. In Week 2, at Green Bay, Dawkins started and had 11 tackles - but Brett Favre and the Packers thumped the
Eleven years later, Favre and Dawkins will eyeball each other again on the same field. And the 33-year-old Dawkins said:
"Until the Lord taps me on my shoulder and says it's time to slow down a little bit, then I'll slow down. Until that point, I'm going to play. The thing I guess
I put in my mind is if you didn't know my number and I snuck on the field and had another number on and if I played, then what would you say about me? You couldn't say he's 33 anymore. You could only say, 'Man, this guy's putting up some big plays." So that's how I look at myself. I don't put a number behind my name."
Or in front of it. The calendar never loses, but it has not beaten Brian Dawkins yet. *
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