One of those plans is to replace the legendary Brian Dawkins with Quintin Demps at free safety, a somewhat surprising decision given that the Eagles signed free agent Sean Jones, an experienced starter at safety with the Cleveland Browns.
"I like Quintin Demps a lot," Johnson said after the team's morning workout yesterday at the NovaCare Complex. "Of course, you know how I feel about Dawkins. . . . But I do like Quintin Demps, and I think the guy loves to play football and he has that same enthusiasm like Dawk does. Dawk is a special guy, there's no question about it. But I do like the way Demps is playing, so I feel pretty good there as far as safety goes."
Neither Johnson nor Demps was feeling particularly well the last time the Eagles played a football game.
Johnson was about to undergo a battery of tests that would confirm the cancer suspected when he started experiencing severe back pain during the Eagles' playoff run. He hoped a trip to Super Bowl XLIII would help soothe the medical news, but instead he had to live with a fall-from-ahead loss to the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC championship game.
"All over the place," is how Johnson described his emotions. "Disappointment, a lot of disappointment, losing that game, and then I knew we were going to have to go in and see what was happening with me. That was tough."
Normally, Johnson would have immediately reviewed the loss to the Cardinals.
"I couldn't see it right away because I had to go to the hospital to get some tests, but when I finally came back I looked at the game by myself a little bit," he said. "When you play a championship game like that, you have to play your best football. It was one of those games where we didn't [create] a lot of turnovers, and it was so close that a turnover was going to turn that game around. They did a good job and they're a good football team. We're a good football team, too, but we didn't play our best game."
Demps played probably the worst game of his rookie season.
He slipped and fell early in the second quarter, allowing Larry Fitzgerald to pull in a 62-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Warner, then was flagged for a flagrant late hit on the Cardinals quarterback just before halftime.
"I was going through it for about a month," Demps said when asked if he had trouble getting past the game.
It was certainly no sin to get beaten by Fitzgerald, who scored seven postseason touchdowns, including three against the Eagles.
"It happens to the best of us," Demps said. "He's the best receiver in the league. I was there [to make the play]. I just . . . ain't no excuses in this league. I got burnt. I just lost my footing."
The Eagles' coaching staff wasn't as forgiving about Demps' late hit on Warner. Demps said secondary coach Sean McDermott was all over him at halftime.
"I've never seen that vein pop out of his neck like that before," Demps said. "He was mad at me. A month later, man, I regretted it. I didn't feel good about that [hit], because at the end of the day we are all one in the NFL. It was a cheap shot. I was frustrated at the time. I got burnt for a touchdown, they weren't kicking me the ball on returns, and I got stiff-armed."
Demps said the league fined him $7,500 for the hit.
Fifteen weeks later, Dawkins is in Denver and Demps is the Eagles' free safety.
"My first thought was like, 'Wow, [Dawkins] isn't going to retire an Eagle,' " Demps said. "But then about a week later I was fired up, thinking, 'It's time to go; they're telling me something.'
"You never replace a Brian Dawkins. I'm just going to take what I learned from him, and I'm going to run with it. I learned the same thing I learned from Jim's illness. You have to cherish it. You can't take this for granted that you're a starter because any given day somebody can take your spot."
Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or firstname.lastname@example.org.