"Last year, there were a lot of contributing factors to that situation," Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "[Mikell] persevered, and that's the important thing. I think he's better off for it."
According to McDermott, Mikell is having one of the best camps of his eight-year career. It's probably no coincidence that the defense - which also experienced growing pains last season - looks sharper than it did a year ago. Of course, Friday's preseason opener against the Jaguars will be the first true gauge.
"We got a lot of speed, man, and a lot of confidence," Mikell said. "Obviously, we're going against the same offense all the time so there's something to be said for that. But right now, I'm excited to see what we got on Friday."
If Nate Allen maintains his hold on the free-safety spot by the season opener next month, it will be the second straight year that a rookie starts opposite Mikell. Harris, now at cornerback, was that guy a year ago. Mikell, an undrafted rookie, had to wait six years before he became a regular starter.
But he observed Dawkins and Michael Lewis, who was essentially his predecessor at strong safety, and learned from their successes and from their mistakes. Lewis, like Jackson now, felt that he had outperformed his rookie contract and let it be known, albeit mildly.
"At the end of the day [Lewis] still went and got paid, he still played for another team [currently the 49ers], he still made money and he's doing fine," Mikell said. "But it was just [in] his time here [that] he didn't make the most of it."
Mikell is in the final year of a four-year, $4 million deal he signed when he was primarily on special teams. When he got the starting job full-time in 2007 and had a very good 2008, he felt that an extension was in order.
It never came. He'd had a similar feeling once before when he wasn't selected in the 2003 draft. A few days prior, McDermott had called Mikell.
"Sean called me and told me where he thought I was going to get drafted, and he said, 'Maybe sixth, seventh round,' " Mikell said. "And I was like, 'I ain't hearing that. I'll be gone.' "
But the NFL wasn't keen on 5-foot-10 safeties at the time, and Mikell's phone didn't ring until McDermott called again with an undrafted-rookie contract.
"I was just depressed," Mikell said. "I went outside and I was just shooting hoops, and they called me in. I remember at that time just not caring. I was like, 'Wherever I go, wherever my agent thinks is the best, I'll go and play ball.' "
Mikell did more than that and beat out a seventh-round draft pick (remember Norman LeJeune?) for the last safety spot on the 2003 team. A year later, he was in the Super Bowl and the rest, as McDermott said, "is history."
"He and I have been through some wars together with him worrying if he was going to make the roster or not, and he just persevered and persevered," McDermott said.
With cornerback Sheldon Brown jettisoned in the off-season, Mikell is the last Eagles defensive back to have learned under Dawkins and former defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. But it's time to move on from the past, Mikell said.
"This defense is totally different than when Dawkins was here, and people are starting to realize that and move on," Mikell said. "Sean's taking it to the next level. He's taking everything that Jim taught him, and I'm taking everything that Dawk taught me, and we're just moving to the next level, the next progression."
Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Jeff_McLane