BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — When the Eagles hired Brian Dawkins a year-and-a-half ago, they gave him the vague title of executive/football operations.
They gave him a vague title because, well, his duties were vague. Dawkins, a free safety who was one of the greatest players in Eagles history, wanted to come back home, and the organization that clumsily handled his exit as a player nine years earlier wanted him back.
The team essentially gave him the leeway to figure out what it was he wanted to do and how he could best help the organization.
“With last year being his first year, he’s just dived in and tried to make this his own role with all of the things that he does, whether it be helping out in player development or helping out in player personnel,” said Joe Douglas, the team’s vice president of player personnel.
“The one thing about Brian [is] he just wants to see the Eagles win. That’s his only goal.”
Dawkins, 44, a two-time Hall of Fame finalist found out Saturday afternoon that he’s part of Canton’s Class of 2018, has been a tremendous resource for the Eagles’ players during this Super Bowl season, both on the field and off. When a four-time all-pro talks, players are very, very inclined to listen.
“Brian hasn’t tried to overstep his boundaries, but he pulls guys aside and constantly gives us tips on how we can improve our game,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “I know it’s helped me this year. I know it’s helped guys like Nigel [Bradham], Ronald Darby, a few other guys.
“You’ll see him working with guys after practice on small things, whether it be technique or tackling or whatever. Just trying to give us small tidbits. I think it’s been beneficial for a few guys on the team.”
Dawk the teacher
Dawkins can be found almost every day on the sideline watching practice. After practice, he’ll frequently work individually with players on aspects of their game. He also has spent considerable time in the film room with many of the defensive backs and linebackers.
“He’s helped elevate our game to another level,” said Bradham, a linebacker. “He’s also helped us understand the game as well. Whether it’s the way we study film or just talking about mentality. Anything. Including life things.”
“Dawk’s got a lot of street cred,” Douglas said. “When he speaks, especially defensive backs or any defensive players [are going to listen]. He’s certainly been an asset as far as the advice and the mentorship he has rendered to these guys.”
Dawkins has tried to help players without stepping on the toes of any of the team’s defensive coaching staff, particularly defensive backs coach Cory Undlin and safeties coach Tim Hauck.
Dawkins and Hauck played together during Hauck’s three seasons with the Eagles (1999-2001). Hauck started 15 games alongside Dawkins in head coach Andy Reid’s and defensive coordinator Jim Johnson’s first year in Philadelphia in 1999.
Both Undlin and Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz gave odd responses when asked about the impact Dawkins has had on the performance of some of the Eagles’ defensive players this season.
“Off the field, what a tremendous resource for the players,” Undlin said. “As far as on the field, he’s not on the field.”
But he’s been working with players after practice and watching film with them.
“I think he does,” Undlin said. “But he’s not in the meetings or anything. I would say how he’s helped them most is with off-the-field stuff.”
Said Schwartz: “There’s a lot of different resources for players, and ex-players are one of those resources. Guys that have had long careers, that have experienced something — maybe it’s being injured, maybe it’s being benched, maybe it’s having a rough game. Those are the things ex-players have gone through, and I think that certainly helps the perspective of players.”
All righty then.
Eagles defensive players are considerably less hesitant to credit Dawkins with the help he’s given them. Bradham is having the best season of his career and said Dawkins is a big reason for that.
“There’s so much I try to soak up from him,” he said. “I try to be like a little sponge. I try to learn everything from him.”
Asked for specifics, Bradham said: “We’ll do a couple of drills after practice. He might give me a few pointers when I’m working on extra stuff. We do ball drills. He’s just pretty much helping me elevate my game so I can be the all-purpose linebacker that I want to be and dream to be. We watch film. He shows me little, small key things to pick up. Not just watching [film], but looking for certain things to pick up.
“When you have a player like Dawk helping you, you want to mold your game [like his]. Dawk was one of those guys, there’s nothing he couldn’t do. And that’s what you want to be as a player. As a pro, I want to be somebody that they say, ‘There’s nothing he can’t do.’ ”
Bradham emphasized that nothing Dawkins talks to him about or helps him with interferes with — or is contrary to — what Schwartz or his position coach, Ken Flajole, teach him.
“We hardly ever talk about technique or things,” he said. “With him, it’s more mentality and small things like loosening my hips. Things like that.”
Great players often aren’t very good teachers. They can’t relate to players who can’t do what they did. But that hasn’t been the case with Dawkins.
“What he’ll do is he’ll show you a couple of plays [on film] of himself,” Jenkins said. “He’ll say, ‘Listen, this is what I was thinking in this moment. This is what my technique is. This is how I worked on it.’ Then, as a player, you can try and do that within your own skill set. You know what to think about during the play. You know where to put your eyes. And you know what kind of drills to work on, to practice.
“He does know how to teach.”
Tackling the problem
When Jaylen Watkins was moved from cornerback to safety last year, Dawkins worked a lot with him on the transition, particularly on his tackling.
“I wasn’t a great tackling corner,” Watkins said. “I moved to safety and became a pretty sure tackler. I credit a lot of that to him. It wasn’t a [lack of] want or will to tackle. It was technique. And what better person to learn from than B-Dawk?”
Dawkins hasn’t pushed himself on players. But they know he’s there if they want to use him as a resource.
“He’s been huge, man,” cornerback Jalen Mills said. “From film-watching to tips on covering, tackling, whatever. You can go up and ask him anything. He’s not a guy who’s stuck in his ways. He’s a guy who took that job to help younger players progress.”
“One thing about him is, a lot of people say: ‘Hey, do this better,’ ” Watkins said. “He’s more of a says-it-and-then-shows-you guy. You get so interested in it that it becomes a 45-minute session after practice with him showing you different things way off-topic than what started.
“Because everybody respects him. Any advice he gives, we just listen, man.”