Strong safety Quintin Mikell is optimistic about the future of the defense. The only question is whether he will be a part of it.
"There's a good nucleus of young guys here that got a lot of experience and played well," Mikell said on Monday as the Eagles cleaned out their lockers for the season. "Hopefully, this was a learning experience for everyone. It doesn't get any better, it gets harder and harder every year."
Mikell is one of four starters on defense whose contract expires in March along with linebackers Stewart Bradley and Ernie Sims and cornerback Dimitri Patterson. Mikell made the amazing climb from rookie free agent in 2003 to second-team All-Pro in 2008 to the Pro Bowl in 2009. For the third-straight year, Mikell compiled at least 100 tackles (111) to go along with a sack, three interceptions, a forced fumble and three fumble recoveries.
In addition to his on-field production, Mikell is looked at as one of the leaders on defense. He was named a defensive co-captain with cornerback Asante Samuel for the playoffs. This season, Mikell was paired with a rookie in Nate Allen at free safety to begin the season and another rookie in Kurt Coleman by season's end. Head coach Andy Reid appreciated the leadership that Mikell brought to the defense this season.
"Quintin is a heck of a football player. He did a nice job for us this year. You really got to see what he was all about this year with his leadership and athletic ability," Reid said. "He was surrounded by some young players and I thought he was able to do a great job of getting them into position, letting them believe in themselves, teaching from the player's side what was expected back there and then what you need during a game when the coach isn't on the field. I really respected that from him."
Allen and Coleman were not the only rookies to start this season. First-round draft pick Brandon Graham opened the season as the starter at left defensive end. By season's end, rookie Jamar Chaney was forced into the middle linebacker position due to injury. At cornerback, fourth-round pick Trevard Lindley saw significant action as Samuel was injured during the year. There's also players like defensive tackle Antonio Dixon, linebacker Moise Fokou and cornerback Dimitri Patterson who didn't begin the year as starters, but were promoted and had impressive moments during the season.
"I feel like we had a lot of guys who stepped up and fought and did as much as they could to give ourselves a chance to win," Mikell said. "Now, were we perfect? No, we weren't perfect. We made a lot of mistakes, but everybody had heart, and they fought every week, every game, so I'm proud of that."
Regarding Mikell's future, the 30-year-old Mikell said that the Eagles will not discuss a contract until the CBA is resolved. After eight seasons with the team, he doesn't want to imagine going to play for another organization. There mere thought of possibly having played his last game with the Eagles made Mikell get emotional on Monday.
"That's not something I really want to think about right now," Mikell said.
-- Posted by Chris McPherson, 8:30 p.m., January 10