Secondary Silenced: Philadelphia Eagles' Defense Looking for New Vocal Leader

Andrew ChampiContributor IMay 19, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - SEPTEMBER 21: Brian Dawkins #22 of the Philadelphia Eagles celebrates recovering a fumble and the sack of Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second half on September 21, 2008 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles won 15-6.(Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

As soon as he ran out on to the field, his mouth began its daily work on your ears while his play left bruises and cracked ribs on opponents.

If you didn't come to play you would hear it from him, and it wouldn't stop until you started producing again.

He dove head first around the field with no regard for his body. His opponents arms grew shorter as the game went on, and their eyes started gazing downfield more often to protect their bodies from what was certain to be a nasty head-on collision.

He was relentless and wouldn't hesitate to get in his teammates' faces faster than his opponents' faces.

If there is one guy you hated to play against, but loved to play alongside, that guy would undoubtedly be Brian Dawkins.

Despite his age, Dawkins was not only an excellent safety, but his demeanor on and off the field made him another coach on the sidelines. Except this coach, literally and figuratively, could strike fear into anyone.

With pro-bowlers Dawkins and cornerback Lito Shepard flying from the nest, the Eagles will have a huge hole to fill in their secondary that was a strength for them in years past.

Asante Samuel is an outstanding cornerback, but for years he's played in front of veteran leadership at safety with Rodney Harrison in New England and Dawkins in Philadelphia.

Now he is reunited with former Patriot teammate Ellis Hobbs, acquired by the Eagles in a draft day trade with New England. However, Hobbs is more known for his kick returning explosiveness than his defensive prowess.

After the Eagles acquired Hobbs and drafted cornerback Victor Harris from Virginia Tech, cornerback Sheldon Brown thought his contract issues were over and he would finally get the trade he wanted.

Not just yet Sheldon.

The Eagles other offseason acquisitions include safeties Sean Jones, from Cleveland, and Rashad Baker, from Oakland. The Eagles can see the giant hole that exists in their secondary that they will attempted to fill with a couple proven guys along with some situational corners and backups.

Brown said there's "no guarantee" he'll attend any of the teams voluntary offseason workouts. If Brown continues to hold out on the Eagles and they are forced to let him go it would leave Samuel as the lone secondary star left on a team that saw three pro-bowlers in their secondary a year ago.

Samuel has proven he can get the job done at his position. However, he isn't the vocal leader the Eagles are trying to replace on defense to bring intensity to not only his position, but throughout the hole defense.

Something Dawkins strived for and did better than anyone else.

Last season the linebacking corps was in question and they fared very well for their lack of superstars and experience at the position. This season an arguably more prominent group of defensive players is still in question and the hole they try to fill won't be an easy task.

In a conference that includes some very capable quarterbacks who will test the guys thrown into the Eagles unproven secondary, it could become a weakness that overshadows some of the strengths on this team going into 2009.

No Brian Dawkins means no more trash talking, bicep flexing, and opposing receivers afraid to run to his spot on the field.

No Lito Shepard means quarterbacks will now look to that side of the field more often, especially if Brown takes off somewhere else.

For this gaping hole to be filled the Eagles must do what they can for Brown, and hope that either he or Samuel can fill the vocal leader position that Dawkins left vacant.