BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Excuse Quintin Mikell if he knows the line of questioning he is about to face. A reporter lines him up and wants to know A) What it's like to be without safety Brian Dawkins and; B) What it's like to be without defensive coordinator. Mikell understands, he really does. For him, though, the challenge ahead is to be a better player and to have a better defense with what the Eagles have, not what is gone.
"Brian is a fan favorite, he was a fan favorite for a long time and he was the most-tenured Eagle and the fans loved him. We, his teammates, loved him. We didn't want to see him go. But that being said, we also have to realize we're in a good situation," said Mikell. "We have a lot of guys coming back, a lot of guys ready to make plays. It's unfortunate Brian is not here, but we still have some games to win. We can't dwell on it.
"As far as Jim goes, it's horrible what happened. We all miss him. We all understand what a terrible thing it is for his family. But we all believe in Sean McDermott and what he is going to do with this defense. He has been here for a long time. He knows the defense, just like we know it. Instead of thinking about all of that, we're focused in on the here and now, that is an exciting proposition."
Mikell earned some stripes last year for his performance at strong safety. He started 16 games for the first time in his career and led the Eagles with 169 total tackles and was second on the team with four forced fumbles and three interceptions. Several national writers recognized Mikell for his play, and suddenly he was more than just an outstanding special teams player and a good utility safety.
Suddenly, Mikell was out of the considerable shadow cast by Dawkins.
"That's a funny thing to say, because I feel like even though Dawk is not here, all the safety positions from here on out for the next 20 years are all going to be compared to Dawk. And that's fine. Those are big shoes to fill, and I'm not really worried about that and I don't think Quintin (Demps) or Sean (Jones) is really worried about that," said Mikell. "We're just trying to go win games, get interceptions, make big hits and win a championship. That's all we can worry about."
With 10 starters back, and with McDermott continuing the in-your-face, attack-the-line-of-scrimmage game plan, Mikell thinks the defense can come together quickly. There is good competition all around on the defense, and there are questions to be answered. Leadership? Sure, always. Big-play maker? Plenty of 'em around, but the more, the merrier.
Intensity and big-game instincts? The Eagles ranked third in the NFL last year in total defense and have so much coming back and that is why Mikell and his mates are excited.
"I think we're going to find out by the end of this training camp where we're at," he said. "We had a nice base last year. Some new players here and there and we came together pretty well. We have to be more consistent, and we have a lot to work on, but we can build on that base. I think by the end of this training camp, we should have a good feeling of what we can do, what kind of D we have and that we can count on going into the regular season.
"We're going to have the same mentality: Physical, in-your-face, aggressive defense. That is something that we love. That is what we're built to do. When you look across the board, you see a bunch of fast, aggressive guys. Sean came up in the system like a lot of us. That's all we know."
Now it is time to start the PD (Post-Dawkins) Era. Mikell figures to be a front man with the media. He is a stand-up guy, a player who worked his way up the ladder to get to where he has reached. He wants to keep climbing, keep proving the doubters wrong.
When you come into the NFL and aren't drafted, well, you carry that chip around with you a long, long time.
"Last year was big for me. I came in with a lot of people doubting me and I put all of that inside of me and I used that as motivation every week to go out and prove people wrong," he says. "I still feel like I'm being doubted. I still use that as fuel to make me go out there and be the best I can be. Every day, I want to be a better football player. I'm out here working on a broad spectrum of things -- footwork, doing a better job of playing the ball, breaking down the middle, breaking up the deep pass. I left too many plays on the field last year. I need to do a better job there this year."
New year, new challenges. Mikell has it down now as he creates his own name, his own shadow as a leader on the Eagles defense.