PHILADELPHIA—Imagine if your basement flooded one day and your roof collapsed the next, or if Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Office were both cancelled at the same time...
Now, you have an idea of the successive gut shots the Philadelphia Eagles' defense has taken this offseason.
First, salary cap calamity hit when safety Brian Dawkins signed a $17 million dollar (including $7.2 million in guaranteed money) contract with Denver that Andy Reid insists the Eagles could not even approach for a 36-year-old player.
Now, real life tragedy is rearing its head with defensive coordinator/blitz wizard Jim Johnson, who is taking an indefinite leave of absence to fight cancer in his lower spine.
Suddenly, the two loudest and most respected voices on the Eagles' defense are no longer around the team.
That’s the Grand Canyon of leadership voids.
Now, nothing is certain—except that things are going to sound very different everywhere from the defensive meeting rooms to the sidelines to the locker room.
Into this sea of uncertainty steps secondary coach Sean McDermott—who is actually a year younger than Dawkins. McDermott is the acting defensive coordinator charged with providing a steady voice to a unit that has six starters under the age of 26.
The hope is that Johnson will be able to return this season and keep making the daring calls that have stood as the hallmark of his Philly defenses. Reports have Johnson looking gaunt though, and he currently needs a wheelchair to get around.
Sadly, it’s anything but a given that Johnson will be able to coach this season.
While no one wants to get their chance this way, this clearly could be McDermott’s opportunity to prove that he has what it takes to be a coordinator in the NFL.
The local La Salle High School alum was highly thought enough to be considered for defensive coordinator openings in Green Bay, New Orleans, and Denver this offseason. But, he didn’t land any of those jobs...meaning there are still some doubts about him.
Doubts that could be exacerbated by the absence of Dawkins the way a lack of common sense is exacerbated by an appearance on a reality show. Dawkins may have lost some speed, but he never let a coach lose a locker room.
Whatever Reid or Johnson suggested, they knew that Dawkins would get any questioning teammates to buy in.
“Obviously, what Dawk had you can’t replace,” Quintin Mikell, the man who will fill the seven-time Pro Bowler’s spot in the lineup, told The News Journal.
As long as Johnson is away from the team, the youth and relative inexperience of the Eagles' defensive coaches carries the potential of making Dawkins’ missing presence even more noticeable.
Linebackers coach Bill Shuey, assistant secondary coach Otis Smith, and defensive quality control coach (film man) Mike Caldwell are all only in their second seasons at those positions, and defensive line coach Rory Segrest is entering his first season on the defensive staff, coming over from special teams.
McDermott has worked with Johnson since 1998, and even if his mentor cannot make it into the office, Johnson is known for always being eager to talk defensive schemes on the phone.
For now, The Voice on defense is McDermott’s—and that’s anything but a sure thing for a team thinking Super Bowl.