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August 03, 2018

What they're saying: Brian Dawkins is still inspiring Eagles, past and present

With Brian Dawkins' Hall of Fame induction looming on Saturday, the focus in Philadelphia has zoomed ever so slightly away from training camp and onto one of the most beloved athletes in recent history. There's no one who deserves an outpouring of coverage quite like Dawkins — he was an exemplary Eagle on and off the field, and has continued to set a strong example long after he hung up his cleats.

So there are a lot of retrospectives and musings being written by scribes around the city right now — including a great one from our own Matt Mullin on how he influenced current Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins — with a nice sprinkle of the usual training camp coverage serving as the cherry on top.

It's a hell of a year if you're an Eagles fan. Any time you can watch your team win a Super Bowl and see an all-time great go into the Hall of Fame wearing Eagles green, it's something to treasure.

A salute from his former head coach 

Nobody is going to nominate Andy Reid for any public speaking awards — "We got to do a better job" is permanently burned into the brain of many Philadelphians — but the mutual love between he and his players has almost never been in question. He's a player's coach through and through, and though Jim Johnson may have had the more pivotal relationship with Dawkins, Reid is no doubt grateful for what his star safety made possible for him.

So it was nice to see Reid send a heartfelt tribute in for the Eagles legend, even if it's done in Reid's standard, muted fashion.

Cheers, tears, and appreciation for Brian Dawkins

Dave Spadaro |

The word culture gets thrown around a lot in professional sports, but few people grapple with what it takes to develop one and what sort of person it takes to be the catalyst for positive change. Dawkins didn't do it on his own, but he was a massive part of the sea change that saw the Eagles seize control of the NFC East for a dominant period of football.

And in contrast to fellow Hall of Famer Terrell Owens, Dawkins was there for it all, as Spadaro concludes in his retrospective.

Dawkins, on the other hand, is an Eagle forever and ever and ever. He feels the love, trust me. It fueled him throughout his NFL career, and now in his daily life. He will be properly celebrated this weekend and throughout the season and, really, for the rest of his life. 

How lucky are we that Dawkins came to Philadelphia and gave us exactly what we needed? Who would have ever known that a humble, hard-working young man from the state of Florida and then Clemson University would fit so perfectly into a culture that demands effort on every play and emotion for everyone to see? Dawkins was the right man at the right time to help revive the Eagles and lead the team to all of those wins and five NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl appearance. []

The only shame is that it wasn't Dawkins who was able to help the Eagles break their Super Bowl drought.

"We knew that we were playing with greatness"

Bo Wulf | The Athletic

I thought Bo did an excellent job of rounding up people with different perspectives for this roundtable, mixing defensive teammates of Dawkins', the Eagles' announcing team, and players on the other side of the ball who simply got to observe him at his best.

Former Eagles corner Bobby Taylor summed up what many already knew about Dawkins, describing the off-field habits that prompted growth in his teammates and the Hall of Fame ability that made him such a feared safety at his peak:

One of the big things that Dawk, along with a couple of other guys, brought to the table was we started a weekly bible study, which was something that I think was important to all of our development not only as football players, but as men in general. And that’s something that I really think is important in my life, in his life and just in our relationship in general. 

We had a nickname for him. We called him Scooter just because of the way that he ran and how quickly — he would show that he was 15 yards deep at the snap of the ball, he would be in the backfield so fast and just the way that he scooted around the field was just incredible. Just to watch that day in and day out on film, we knew that we were playing with greatness. []

Many of us knew we were watching it, too.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Dawkins recounts his Eagles career, its abrupt ending, and what the fans mean to him

Keep an eye on Jay Ajayi this year

Tyler Buecher | Pro Football Focus

It's not exactly breaking news that Philadelphia's offensive line was a key to their success last season — you don't make a Super Bowl run with a backup quarterback if things are falling apart around him — and that came in spite of a major loss in the form of Jason Peters. If the veteran tackle is back in fighting shape alongside the rest of the Super Bowl winning unit, look out.

The man who stands to benefit the most from their dominance? If it's not Carson Wentz, it may just be Ajayi, who will presumably seize the reins of the rushing attack with LeGarrette Blount out of the picture. And with Pro Football Focus handing out strong grades to the OL, they believe Ajayi is a back to "confidently invest in" from a fantasy perspective.

The Eagles retained the top spot from our end of 2017 rankings heading into the 2018 season. Bringing back perennial All-Pro Jason Peters will only be an addition to this offensive line that performed admirably in his absence (nine games). Lane Johnson was our No. 5 graded run-blocking tackle, Brandon Brooks finished fourth among guards, and Jason Kelce led all centers in this category in what was a major bounceback year for him. 

Among all backs with at least 70 rush attempts, Ajayi tied for third at the position with the 3.6 yards after contact per attempt. The player he tied with? Former Philadelphia teammate LeGarrette Blount. []

Get on it, fantasy heads.

Eagles are sticking to 'The Plan' with Carson Wentz

Jenny Vrentas | Sports Illustrated

There's been plenty of ink spilled on Wentz remaining out of 11-on-11 drills so far through camp, even if last year's Super Bowl win has Eagles fans serenely calm heading into a title defense year. That constant anxiety about this year needing to be the year disappeared in the 60 minutes it took to beat the New England Patriots this past February.

But rest assured Wentz's every move will be scrutinized to death anyway, as the Eagles attempt to balance their quarterback's competitive fire with the best thing for his long-term health.

Stick to The Plan. That’s the talk these days at Eagles headquarters. The default answer, to any question pertaining to Carson Wentz’s return from his left ACL and LCL tears, is that they’re proceeding according to The Plan. 

The exact details of The Plan, however, are not yet clear to those outside the walls of the NovaCare Complex. By all accounts, Wentz looked fantastic during the opening days of training camp, acing 11-on-11 drills in the team’s first padded practice on Saturday. But in the next three practices, Wentz sat out all of the full team periods. On Wednesday he threw only in individual drills and 7-on-7 work, and during one of the 11-on-11 team periods, he took off his knee brace, headed over to a side field and did a series of single-leg hopping drills on his own. Is this part of The Plan? 

“What I saw last week is enough to ease my mind,” coach Doug Pederson said Wednesday. “I don't need to see him in 11-on-11 drills right now. He's progressing extremely well. I don’t want to subject him to any kind of a setback or anything like that.” []

I'm dubious this will pick up as much steam as "The Process," but who knows.

Jordan Mailata has 'Welcome to America' moment

Tim McManus |

Mailata comes from a country notorious for producing tough people (Australia), a sport that is physically demanding (rugby), and has the size to battle with just about anybody.

But that's still not necessarily going to prepare you for the intensity of the NFL:

It came during one-on-ones between the offensive and defensive linemen. Mailata drew veteran defensive end Steven Means, who attacked him with a bull rush. Mailata started with a kick-out and tried to sit back in his stance but failed to get fully set. By the time he took the focus off his own fundamental work and fully onto his opponent, all he could see was the crown of Means’ helmet bearing down on him. The 6-foot-3, 263-pound Means knocked the 6-foot-8, 346-pound Mailata flat to the ground, sending the defensive linemen into a frenzy. 

“Nails,” said Mailata. “That was ‘Welcome to America.'" 

Mailata is now a week deep into his first NFL training camp, and he acknowledges his body is “crook” – Australian for "ailing." His arms are feeling it the most; now that the pads are on and the intensity turned up, he’s using them really for the first time to battle pass-rushers, and it's taking a toll. []

Welcome to the league, pal.

What's up with Tim Jernigan?

Zach Rosenblatt |

Once again, it is much easier to gloss over an injury saga when your team is coming off a Super Bowl victory. So the mysterious back issue suffered by Jernigan that subsequently impacted his contract has moved into the background a bit, despite having the potential to really throw things out of sorts for Philadelphia's front seven.

From the sound of things, the explanation for the mysterious issue doesn't appear to be forthcoming.

As Wednesday's training camp practice ended, and Eagles coach Doug Pederson concluded his press conference, a smattering of reporters entered the team's locker room. 

Tim Jernigan, draped in a towel, looked up, and checked his imaginary watch. 

"Welp, time to go!" he said, coaxing laughs from nearby teammates, and then he disappeared into a private part of the facility. 

Jernigan, a starting defensive tackle, has been missing in action throughout training camp, not even in attendance on the sideline at practice as he recovers from a mysterious offseason back injury. It required surgery on a herniated disc in his back, and his status for the season is in question.

 It is likely he opens the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, requiring him to sit out for six weeks. 

In the meantime, nobody outside of the Eagles' training staff has seen what he's been doing during practices, Eagles coaches have refused to discuss the circumstances surrounding his injury, nor the severity of it. Jernigan has avoided the media since the Super Bowl, too. []

Jernigan is a huge piece of Philadelphia's rotation up front, and his situation will be one to monitor as the Eagles progress through the season.

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