Asante Samuel and Stewart Bradley are capable of leading the
Eagles Defense (Photo via www.newsday.com)
Any true Eagles fanatic will tell you: Brian Dawkins was the heart and soul of the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense for over a decade. He was the face of the Eagles resistance that averaged a ranking of 11 in total defense since 2000. His passion for the game and his inspiring words not only boosted the play of his teammates, but even made me want to strap on a helmet and take on a 330-pound run blocking lineman. (Admit, you wanted to as well) Nevertheless, the man known as "Weapon-X" has departed from the Eagle secondary forever, leaving the defensive leader position faceless.
The Philadelphia Eagles defense overflows with high character and inspirational talents. I believe there are many candidates who can fill in the prestigious role of lighting the fire for the entire unit. Here’s just a few:
- Broderick Bunkley, DT – At first thought, it’s unusual that Broderick Bunkley would be considered. Think harder, though. Bunkley has improved in each of his 3 seasons since being called at the podium for the Philadelphia Eagles at the 2006 NFL Draft. Also, Dave Spadaro, Philadelphia’s inside man, had this to say about Bunkley in his recent article: "I firmly believe that a locker room has many, many voices. And some of those voices are more influential than you think. A player like Brodrick Bunkley, for example, is a tremendous locker room and game-day voice." Time will tell.
- Trent Cole, DE – Some may believe this to be a more exceptional candidate than his colleague on the defensive line, Broderick Bunkley. Trent Cole is arguably the Eagles best defensive end, earning 21.5 sacks in the last two seasons. He is a seasoned veteran that I believe, could take any defense under his wing.
- Stewart Bradley, LB – Bradley played very well in his first full season as Mike linebacker. Throughout the enter season and post-season, he showed flashed of leadership and guidance. Bradley’s will to win showed during the Eagles post season performances against the Giants and the Cardinals, in which he led the team in tackles both games. Stewart’s future is bright, and if he can command a dominating defense, things will look bright in that regard as well.
- Omar Gaither, LB – Yes. I’m talking about the guy who lost his job to Akeem Jordan last year. Hey, even the bench needs life. During training camp and team practices, players and fans’ ears were constantly being flooded with the cocky words of Omar Gaither. On the field, and on the sidelines, Gaither is a vocal motivator who can bring life to a nursing home. He is the best choice for the defensive face? Definitely not. However, he can provide inspiration to any situation that calls for it.
- Quintin Mikell, S – Has anyone progressed through the ranks better than his man? Mikell was signed as a rookie free agent by the Eagles in 2003, and in 2008, found himself alongside Brian Dawkins as one of the two starting safeties. An interesting fact to note is that Mikell was second on the team in tackles last season, next to Stewart Bradley. Sheldon Brown, the Eagles veteran cornerback had this to say about Mikell: "He's a beast. He's an animal. He's just an old-school football player. He'll have a bloody nose, bloody mouth, you're going to look at him and he's going to line up again and bring it." A clone of Dawkins? Dawkins himself thinks so. I don’t think any Eagles fan would have a problem with that.
- Sheldon Brown, CB – Sheldon Brown certainly has the potential to be a complete defensive leader. He played very well last season as a happy man, but this season, his unhappiness with his contract will most likely take him out of the role. Hopefully when his pads are strapped on, and the stadium lights beam down on him, he’ll step up and provide a flame for the defense.
- Asante Samuel, CB – I didn’t know Asante Samuel could speak, let alone be the heart and soul of a ferocious defense. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, "The all-pro cornerback has been the most vocal player during this spring's minicamps, and even though he and his coach say it's nothing new, it's certainly more conspicuous now that Dawkins has taken his superhero act to Denver." From telling jokes to talking trash, Asante Samuel is heard all throughout the entire practice. He seems to also be catching the eye of the head coach. Reid stated this about his number one ball hawk: ""Before it was [quarterback] Donovan [McNabb] challenging everybody, and now Asante has jumped in from that side and he is challenging back, and I kind of like that."
So far this offseason, the Eagles defense has taken some hits. It is going to be interesting to see just how well this unit can mold together with the loss of Brian Dawkins and the absence of Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson. If anyone can keep things tidy, it’s Head Coach Andy Reid. Remember the last few instances in which the Eagles departed with one of their defensive leaders? Let’s go back to the end of the 2003 season, when Reid and Co. decided to part ways with their veteran cornerback tandem in Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent. How did the team respond the following season with the removal of these two leaders? Absolutely amazing. They finished 10th in the league in total defense and even made a trip to Superbowl XXXIX. What about Jeremiah Trotter’s release in pre-season 2007? The Axe Man was undoubtedly one of the vocal and spiritual leaders that anchored the defense. How did the defense perform that "Trotterless" season? Jim Johnson’s crew ranked 10th in total defense, 9th in yards per game, and 5th in total defensive penalties.
The loss of the beloved Dawkins may be harder on the fans, than on the performance of the defense. Fact is, this defense is loaded with guys who will push each other further. You may never hear the hortatory sound bites this season that you would hear if Dawkins was still here. However, you can bet that the Eagles will continue to be one of the league’s best defenses. With solid veterans and a promising young corps, the Eagles Defense is nothing short of super bowl caliber.
Questions? Comments? Suggestions?
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