- As Brian Dawkins takes his rightful place among the greatest of the greats in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, his position is in the best hands since he left.
Brian Dawkins left impossible shoes to fill following the 2008 season.
No one. Absolutely no one would be able to replicate the passion, intensity, and playmaking ability Dawkins brought to Philadelphia.
You know the names who have played the safety position since - Nate Allen, Patrick Chung, Kurt Coleman, Macho Harris, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Earl Wolff, among others.
Finally, things changed on March 11, 2014 when the Eagles signed veteran Malcolm Jenkins to a three-year contract. Jenkins understood what he was getting into when he came to Philadelphia.
"He's a tough act to follow for anybody," Jenkins said of Dawkins. "When I got here, I kind of recognized the hole that he left."
In that free agency period, other safeties were hotter names on the market. Jairus Byrd, for example, was the No. 1 free agent available, regardless of position, according to NFL.com. But Jenkins was the right fit for Philadelphia.
Jenkins was a college cornerback who transitioned to safety in his second NFL season with the New Orleans Saints. That versatility has served him well playing multiple roles on defense. He's been a playmaker, with four return touchdowns since his arrival. He is a tone-setter, just as former Patriots wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
And he's a leader.
In the locker room following the NFC East-clinching win over the Rams, when the team knew that quarterback Carson Wentz was likely done for the season, he reminded his teammates of the mantra that's now inscribed on the Super Bowl ring, "We all we got. We all we need."
Jenkins isn't Dawkins. He knows that. We all know that. But he's been pretty darn good being himself.
"I've just become my own player, establishing kind of my own name," said Jenkins, a two-time Pro Bowl selection with the Eagles. "He's one of those guys that you can never replace. That's why he's in the Hall of Fame. Hall of Fame players don't come every single year. It's one of those things where I respect it. I think he knows that which is why he doesn't put too much pressure on me to be like him. He created the love that this city has for the safety position. I think those expectations and the bar has been set really, really high, which is good, because I think it makes all of us strive to be better than we imagined.
"One day I want to be in that Ring of Honor at the top of the stadium. To see his name up there now, I know what the standard is."
Jenkins will be watching Saturday night as Dawkins in inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It'll be "one of the most epic speeches in Hall of Fame history," Jenkins said. Rodney McLeod will be watching, too. McLeod, like Jenkins, embraced that the safety culture in Philadelphia is unlike any other.
"The body of work speaks for itself as a leader, passionate player, energetic man, one who gave his all, and just an example of what a safety should be," said McLeod, who signed with the team as a free agent in 2016. "Well versatile from the sacks, punishing blows, and then just his presence around here. Just seeing a man who's an inspiration for me and Malcolm alone. He's definitely given me some pointers and tips on how to advance my game and also how to be a leader around the locker room. It's going to be a special moment, I know, for him. Everything that he worked for is finally here. We take a night and really appreciate everything that he did for the game."
McLeod worked from the ground up, entering the league as a rookie free agent with the Rams before joining the Eagles. He has six interceptions in his first two years with the team. And his third-quarter sack of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in the Divisional Round was the first by an Eagles safety in a playoff game since ... you guessed it.
Dawkins did everything for this franchise as a player and was instrumental behind the scenes when the team captured its first Super Bowl crown last season.
"I know it meant everything to him. He's the definition of what a Philadelphia Eagle player is. When you think of the Eagles, one name that comes to mind is Brian Dawkins," McLeod said. "I know he was ecstatic for us. I know he wanted it to be him, but at the end of the day we did it for guys like him, like Donovan McNabb, like Harold Carmichael, guys who paved the way and came through the locker room, this organization."
Jenkins and McLeod have been trusty and reliable, missing just one game due to injury between the two of them in Philadelphia. And as Weapon X takes his rightful place among the greatest of the greats in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, his position is in the best hands since he left.
"He was always super fearless and played with a lot of energy and passion," McLeod said. "That's one thing that I always try to do when I go out there, just give it my all, and if you do that you can't be mad at the results."
"The biggest thing that I've been able to take from B-Dawk is just how every play he's looking for an opportunity to impact the game whether it's punish the guy with the ball or take the ball away in a bunch of ways that I really hadn't thought about," Jenkins said.