When the Eagles kickoff the 2009 season at Lincoln Financial Field will not see the team's safety Brian Dawkins whipping the crowd into a mad frenzy during pre-game introductions.
Dawkins teammates on defense and for that matter the entire team will certainly miss his fiery leadership which was forged by 13 years of stellar play that included seven Pro Bowl appearances.
But now that Dawkins wearing a Denver Broncos uniform, the Eagles are going to be hard-pressed to fill the leadership void in the secondary and the defense that he left behind. The question is who among the Birds defense is ready to pick up the mantle of leadership left behind with Dawkins departure to Denver.
In an interview that I did with Dawkins during the 2007 season I asked him about some of his teammates in the secondary. Out of all the people Dawkins talked about the name he mentioned the most was strong safety Quintin Mikell. In fact, without hesitation, Dawkins described Mikell as a clone of himself.
“I’ve been a Q supporter since he’s been here, I recognize that he was a talented young man with real excellent feet, very aggressive to the ball and will come and deliver the blow when needed it,” Dawkins said back in Nov. 2007. “With me and him on the field together we’re mirror images of each other.”
Teammate Sheldon Brown echoed the same sentiment on the Eagles website: “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.”
In 2008, Mikell (5' 10,'' 206 pounds) led the team in tackles with 169 and had three interceptions. He was voted second team All-Pro by the Associated Press last season.
“Quintin [Mikell] we all know is a good football player. I think you just have to keep him at strong safety and let him play from there. I think he's going to be one of the Pro Bowl safeties in this league very, very fast,” said Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson during a press conference with reporters back on May 2.
What makes Mikell, who played his ball at Boise State, special for the Eagles is that he moved up through ranks and has excelled in everything the team has asked him to do since signing with the Birds as a rookie free agent in 2003.
In 2005 and 2006, he was named the Eagles most valuable special team player and was named to Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman's All-Pro Team as a special team's player in 2006.
With his stellar performance on the field along with the ringing endorsements from his teammates and coaches, there are several questions for Mikell coming into the 2009.
Do you see yourself taking on the mantle of leadership in the Birds secondary that Brian Dawkins left behind?
From playing with Dawkins for the last six years, what did you learn from him both on and off the field? How instrumental was he in your development as a safety, especially he once described you as a mirror of himself?
How would you describe your own leadership style and do you see yourself becoming more of a vocal presence on this team, especially with younger players like free safety Quintin Demps looking up to you.
Talk about your own journey as a player from your days at Boise State. You came to this team as an undrafted free agent and now you're an established starter in the NFL. How difficult was it to come up from being a rookie free agent to where you are now.
Jim Johnson seems to have a lot of confidence in you, how did that evolve over the years and how difficult was it to learn his defense and prove to him that you can play on this defense?
I know folks will compare with Dawkins—even though you played different positions—How are you different from Dawkins as a player...What's your strong suit as a safety?
With all the new players like Sean Jones how strong is the Birds secondary and how good can this squad be in 2009?
Who influenced you in your younger days as a football player and as a man—and what point did you come to the conclusion that you had the ability to play at this level? Was there an incident from your life that showed you what you can do if you put your mind to it?