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Discarded Dawkins becomes Denver treasure

Michael Silver
Yahoo Sports

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At the current pace of communications technology, at a time when some people seem incapable of having a conscious thought without immediately micro-blogging it, the thank-you note may seem as obsolete as the telegram by January. Even so, as an old-school gesture of gratitude, Denver Broncos rookie coach Josh McDaniels might want to think about sending one to Andy Reid, his Philadelphia Eagles counterpart.

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Dawkins takes down Bengals FB Brian Leonard(notes) in the opener.
(Frank Victores/US Presswire)

If the Broncos end up hosting a playoff game – and given their stunning 4-0 start, two-game lead in the AFC West and suddenly suffocating defense, they're well on their way – they'll have received a major assist from Reid in the form of a ferocious 14th-year safety, the gift that keeps on giving.

A quarter of the way through the 2009 season, there's no doubt as to which free-agent signee has made the biggest impact upon his new team, at least so far. Ask anyone in Denver's organization, and he'll tell you that former Eagles star Brian Dawkins(notes) is the undisputed driving force behind the Broncos' defensive transformation.

On Sunday at Invesco Field, when Denver plays host to the 3-1 New England Patriots in a key early season clash, Dawkins will loom as a mile-high menace of the first degree. Two days shy of his 36th birthday, Dawkins will be out there slamming his body into ballcarriers, running down receivers and offering a forceful and convincing rebuttal to anyone who suggested he was no longer an elite player.

"Having him here is amazing," Champ Bailey(notes), the Broncos' perennial Pro Bowl cornerback, said after last Sunday's 17-10 victory over the Dallas Cowboys at Invesco. "I've never seen anybody like him. You can see his emotion, how passionate he is about the game. It's wild. He's so hyped. He's in his moment, and you love being around him.

"Most of all, he can play. Guys at 23 aren't doing what he's doing."

What Dawkins is doing is showing the world that the Eagles may regret their decision not to re-sign the emotional ballhawk, who last season was named to his seventh Pro Bowl. Like Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott in 1991 and Rodney Harrison(notes) in 2003, Dawkins seems to have responded to a slight from his longtime team by taking it out on the world.

"When Philadelphia let him go, I was shocked," said Harrison, now an NBC analyst. "I just can't believe Philly would let him go, for what he's done for the program. I mean, overpay him if you have to. It's like Bobby Bowden and Florida State. For all he's done, overpay him. Because he's an incredible leader who makes everyone around him better – and trust me, he can still play."

Harrison can relate like few others. Six-and-a-half years ago, after nine highly successful seasons with the San Diego Chargers, he was released in a salary-cap move. Coming off a year in which he was hobbled by a painful groin injury, Harrison was determined to prove he could still perform at a high level.

He wasn't subtle about it: After signing with the Patriots, the hard-hitting Harrison quickly became the leader of the team's secondary, earning All-Pro honors and a Super Bowl ring in '03 and second-team All-Pro honors and another ring the following season. Over those two postseasons, he was responsible for seven turnovers.

"I'd been injured my last season in San Diego, and I could've sat back and chilled and collected $3 million," Harrison recalled. "But I decided to go out and play with a 35-percent ripped groin, and they said I lost a step. Hell yeah – I lost threesteps, because I was hurt.

"When they let me go, that motivated the hell out of me. It was just what I needed. It took my focus and intensity to the next level. I thanked the Chargers afterward, because that's exactly the push I needed at that stage of my career. And let me tell you – that same thing is driving Brian."

Shortly after the start of free agency, Dawkins received a call from McDaniels, the former Patriots offensive coordinator. The two had never met but they connected instantly, after McDaniels uttered the words Dawkins had been hoping to hear.

Remembering that conversation after last Sunday's game, Dawkins said, "One of the first things Josh told me was, 'We don't see you just as a leader, Bri. We see you as a playmaker. We see you as an every-down safety. We don't buy what others are saying.' "

Fewer people are buying the notion that Dawkins is washed up after the way he has helped energize the Broncos' defense. Last December, in the game that cost it a playoff berth, Denver gave up 52 points in a lopsided defeat to the Chargers. Four games into this season, with a new defensive coordinator (former 49ers coach Mike Nolan), a new scheme (the 3-4) and a new emotional leader, the Broncos have surrendered a league-low 26 points.

"I can still do everything I need to," Dawkins said. "Obviously, the older you get, the more things stand out. Every mistake you make when you're older, it's always because of your age. I'm used to it."

To Harrison, any decline in Dawkins' skills is offset by his mental mastery of the position.

"Look, none of us at 34, 35 will have the same speed and whatever else as we did at 22," Harrison said. "But I'll tell you this: We're a lot smarter, so we can get places faster. Dudes at 22, they're a step slower because they don't know the game."

Dawkins also understands more than most players that, at its core, football is a game of imposing one's will upon an opponent, often in the most violent manner possible. In a sport in which participants are hyped to the hilt before and during games, Dawkins stands out among his peers.

“Having him here is amazing. I've never seen anybody like him. You can see his emotion, how passionate he is about the game. It's wild. He's so hyped. He's in his moment, and you love being around him. Most of all, he can play. Guys at 23 aren't doing what he's doing.”

Champ Bailey on Brian Dawkins

"Oh, man, he's crazy," inside linebacker D.J. Williams(notes) said. "It's weird. You get a guy that crazy on the field, and off the field he's the nicest guy in the world. [Former Broncos safety John] Lynch is kind of like that, too. You see Brian walking around and he's like, 'Hey, how you doing?' with a big smile. Then, on the field, it's 'Kill everybody. Hit 'em in the mouth. It's on.' "

Yet Dawkins can be a steadying presence as well. Last Sunday, as Dallas drove for a potential tying touchdown in the final minutes, he repeatedly reassured his teammates in the huddle that, regardless of how far the Cowboys penetrated, all would be forgiven if they were kept out of the end zone.

After Sam Hurd(notes) caught a short fourth-down pass from Tony Romo(notes) and rambled 53 yards, it was Dawkins who raced downfield and caught the 24-year-old wideout at the Denver 20-yard line.

"I can make touchdown-saving tackles for my team if need be," Dawkins said after the game. "I can give my body to the university, so to speak. All I knew is I had to get him."

In the end, the Broncos stopped Dallas two yards short of a tying score, and Dawkins quickly turned his attention to the Patriots, an opponent that can certainly understand the value of a veteran safety on a mission. In fact, Harrison is convinced that McDaniels' time in New England as an assistant to Bill Belichick was the impetus behind the young coach's desire to bring in Dawkins last February.

"Like Belichick, Josh loves veteran leadership," Harrison said. "He saw what happened in New England when they brought in certain key veterans, and when you've got a chance to go after a guy like Brian, why would you pass that up?

"To me, the guy's a Hall of Famer. He's making an impact now, but it'll be felt even more in November and December, when things get tough and they need to figure out how to take it to the next level. Brian can show them the way."

If Dawkins does, perhaps a thank-you card won't be good enough. And for guys like Reid, the fruit basket will never be obsolete.

TAKE IT TO THE ATM

The Minnesota Vikings will have a serious letdown and play a very sloppy game against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday – and get away with it. … The Arizona Cardinals will beat the Houston Texans in a shootout in which both teams score at least 30 points. … The Tennessee Titans will rally to save their season, at least for a week, by defeating the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night. (And yes, that sound you hear is me banging my head against the wall.)

PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …

San Francisco, where I can watch the 3-1 Niners battle the 2-1 Atlanta Falcons in what should be a terrific game – and pay a psychic visit to my past. Oh, and maybe Hammer will be there, too.

LIES, LIES, LIES

1. If Rush Limbaugh becomes a part-owner of the Rams, African-American players won't be influenced by his radical political views when considering free-agency options.

2. Napa Valley (Calif.) police discovered during their investigation of Oakland Raiders coach Tom Cable that JaMarcus Russell(notes) also took a swing at defensive assistant Randy Hanson. Fortunately, the quarterback missed. Badly.

3. Before the '07 draft, no one possibly could have predicted that Russell would be such a disaster in Oakland.

WORLD'S SIMPLEST POOL

In continuing my strategy of picking on awful teams – witness last week's choice of Houston over Oakland – I'm counting on Donovan McNabb to make a triumphant return for the Eagles against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If all goes well Philadelphia will then join Houston, Baltimore, Washington and New England as off-limits for future weeks.

MY BUDDIES' ANNOYING FANTASY ADVENTURE

Last week, against our better judgment, UCSB women's basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb and I agreed that "coach killer" Braylon Edwards(notes) was a better play than newly acquired Bernard Berrian(notes). I will hereby refer to Gottlieb as "Dead Coach": Edwards' zero-point effort in what turned out to be his final game with the Browns, punctuated by his alleged punch-out of one of LeBron James' buddies at a Cleveland club, turned out to be the difference in Harsh Reality's 11-point defeat to Dear Meat. Now, with Greg Jennings(notes), Greg Olsen(notes), Mason Crosby(notes) and the Packers' defense on bye weeks and Edwards deeper in Gottlieb's doghouse than he ever was in Eric Mangini's, Harsh Reality (2-2) looks to rebound against the lamely renamed "USC 30 Cal 3" – an 0-4 team which, not coincidentally, features one of the weakest fantasy lineups (Tony Romo, Glen Coffee(notes), Jerome Harrison(notes), Tim Hightower(notes), DeSean Jackson(notes), Pierre Garcon(notes), Marcedes Lewis(notes), Joe Nedney(notes), Panthers' defense) ever to walk the imaginary earth. Gottlieb and I like our chances, this week and beyond. This week we're playing Carson Palmer(notes) (at Ravens) over Trent Edwards(notes) (vs. Browns); inserting Berrian opposite Chad Johnson; returning Marion Barber(notes) to the lineup opposite Chris Johnson; going with the newly signed Neil Rackers(notes) and Buffalo defense; and toying with the idea of putting newly claimed LenDale White(notes) into the wide receiver/running back flex slot, ahead of Julius Jones(notes). And no, Gottlieb's not playing Edwards in his debut for the Jets. "He's dead to me," she says.

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Knox made Fantasy owners happy with a 102-yard kickoff return against the Lions
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

As for my buddy Malibu, his team, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, is now tied for last place at 1-3 after a narrow defeat to Slobber Knockers. Berrian and Johnny Knox(notes) turned out to be productive scorers for Sabbath, but Brandon Marshall's(notes) huge play on Sunday and Aaron Rodgers'(notes) big Monday night were too much to overcome. This week against Locals Only (Mark Sanchez(notes), Matt Ryan(notes), Steve Slaton(notes), Thomas Jones(notes), T.J. Houshmandzadeh(notes), Anquan Boldin(notes), Justin Gage(notes), John Carlson(notes)), Sabbath has a bad case of the byes, with Darren Sproles(notes), LaDainian Tomlinson(notes), Reggie Bush(notes), Knox, Nate Kaeding(notes) and the Packers' defense all chillin' like Bob Dylan. He (Malibu, not Bob, who incidentally is one of his neighbors) will try to get it done with my rag-tag bunch of waiver claims (Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi(notes), Steelers halfback Mewelde Moore(notes), Eagles kicker David Akers(notes) and the Cowboys' defense) and with the return of McNabb – we're playing him and Kurt Warner(notes) ahead of Joe Flacco(notes).

What does Y! Sports fantasy guru Brad Evans think of all this maneuvering? Have at it, Mr. E:

"Though the Silver Surfer has already exceeded expectations several times in the prediction department, his perception of "USC 30 Cal 3" is completely misguided. Even Oskie the Bear would agree. Simply put: this is not a ragtag group of heartless zombies. In Fantasyland, favorable matchups can lead to surprising results.

"Yes, Romo would have difficulty threading a ball through a monster truck tire right now, but the Chiefs have yielded the fifth-most fantasy points to QBs this year. Also, every running back in the Cal hater's backfield is facing an exploitable rush defense: Coffee (vs. Atl, eighth-most fantasy points to RBs), Harrison (at Buf, third-most) and Hightower (vs. Hou, fourth-most). Garcon versus a dreadful Titans secondary and Jackson against an equally porous Tampa Bay unit could also inflict heavy damage. If this were the 'Thriller' video, Harsh Reality would be the big-haired damsel in distress. The "weakest fantasy lineups ever to walk the imaginary earth" is about to feast. Braylon Edwards' threats of violence won't help.

"As for our troubled friend Malibu, he better actually love thy neighbor if he has any hope of attaining victory. Promise favors. Seriously, whatever he desires. The duo of McNabb and Warner could carry him, but the bye week blues will be difficult to overcome. Take us home B.B …

The thrill is gone
It's gone away for good
Oh, the thrill is gone baby
Baby it's gone away for good
Someday I know I'll be over it all baby
Just like I know a man should

Malibu, at 1-4, you'll have at least one more win than the Rams.

OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE

The NFL's blackout policy has long been frustrating for fans in less-robust markets, and it's more of an issue this year as the economic downturn has caused teams like Jacksonville, San Diego, Oakland, Detroit and Arizona to experience decreased ticket demand. Because the Jaguars will likely fail to sell out any of their home games, people in the Jacksonville area – even those with NFL Sunday Ticket – will probably see no more than half of the team's snaps this season. That seems severe, and a lot of people think the blackout policy is antiquated and should be abolished. On the other hand, I understand the league's logic behind the policy: If you know a game is on TV, you're far less likely to plunk down cash and schlep to the stadium, and that means more empty seats and less revenue. So here's what I'm proposing: In conjunction with the DirecTV Sunday Ticket package or, ideally, as a stand-alone pay-per-view offer to anyone with even basic cable, why not give fans in markets where games are blacked out the option to pay a flat fee to see a specific contest? In other words, if you're a Jags fan living in Jacksonville and feel as though you absolutely must see their Oct. 18 showdown with the Rams, you'd be able to grab your remote and pay the single-game viewing fee – say $15 per household, or $100 per establishment – to satisfy your craving. It's the same concept as when airlines, unable to fill out their first-class sections with customers purchasing those fares, offer certain fliers with coach tickets the opportunity to upgrade for additional (but not exorbitant) fees. I think such a policy would increase revenues, and I know it would mean greater satisfaction for a fervent block of fans. So what do you say, NFL – can we do this? Or does it make too much sense?

LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …

Tierra Rogers, whose ultra-promising college basketball career ended before it officially began when she was diagnosed last week with a rare heart condition. Rogers fought through tragedy as a high school junior, and she'll need to summon that same strength and determination as she copes with this jarring setback. The good news is that she's out of the hospital and back attending classes at the world's greatest academic institution, where she'll receive thoughts, prayers and tremendous support from an extended Golden Bear family.

DISPATCHES FROM THE LAIR OF THE BEAR

Most of us who witnessed Cal's disturbingly meek performance on a national stage Saturday night are feeling awfully agnostic about the program as the Golden Bears head into a bye week, but it's good to know that sophomore kicker David Seawright remains a true believer. Now I believe I'll go beat the hell out of my pillow for the 15th time this week – and turn things over to our young proselytizer.

Belief.

Belief is hard to define and difficult to comprehend, yet it sustains and survives through the most trying times. We all have beliefs, even if expressed as an outward attempt not to believe.

In the world of college football, belief classifies a team, carries a team, and determines its ultimate success.

Belief can be beautiful – the sound of 70,000 roaring fans on a breathtaking break by Jahvid Best. But belief can be brutal – like giving full effort on fourth-and-14 while down by 23 points in the fourth quarter.

Belief can be widespread, like when you're ranked sixth in the country. But belief can be seemingly absent, as evidenced by any number of conversations held amongst my classmates this week.

The splendor of belief, however, is that it finds its power from within, and from within it prevails. Belief does not suddenly appear on Saturdays, but instead drives us through early morning workouts, exhausting conditioning, new maxes in the weight room, and double days during August heat.

We derive belief from hours of film study, thousands of repetitions, and the sacrifice of time, energy and relationships. Belief comes from the perfect combination of confidence and craving, humility and hunger.

Belief begins during the 6 a.m. workouts in February rain before the sun rises when the seats of Memorial Stadium rest empty. Belief triumphs through the end of a 60-minute struggle that, by the fourth quarter, leaves seats equally as empty.

Belief remains beyond rankings, beyond bandwagoners, beyond boos and beyond lopsided losses.

Belief is alive and well within our locker room just as it began: with the few who sacrifice to inspire such belief.

YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK

Lord of no rings Chargers

ROLLIN' WITH THE ROYALS

Adding to the atrocity of my sports-watching weekend, Reading suffered a 2-0 defeat to Middlesbrough at Madejski Stadium, with former Royals striker Leroy Lita driving a 20-yard shot into the corner for Boro's second goal in the 55th minute. Lita's respectful, muted celebration earned him a round of applause from the 17,638 fans at Madejski – and that was about the only cheery moment of the match. It gets worse, too: After an international break, the Royals – now 21st in the 24-team league table with 10 points, just two above the relegation line – travel to second-place West Bromwich Albion for an Oct. 17 match.

LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK

New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum has a new toy, one that it cost him two players and a pair of draft picks to acquire. Now Tannenbaum's giddier than a kid on Christmas morning – who gets to jam with Duane Allman and Eric Clapton. Here's the musical representation of Tannenbaum's mood, to the tune of Derek and the Dominoes' "Layla" (riff courtesy of the late Allman, additional killer licks provided by Clapton).

What'll you do when you get open
And nobody's rolling to your side?
You've been a butterfingers much too long
Still I love having you out wide

Braylon, you've got me on my knees
Braylon, your hands are like Swiss cheese
Braylon, catch Rex's disease – it's for Sanchize

I tried to give you consolation
When old Mangini let you down
Like a fool, I figured you'd be cool
Until LeBron comes to town

Braylon, you've got me on my knees
Braylon, your hands are like Swiss cheese
Braylon, catch Rex's disease – it's for Sanchize

Let's make the best of the situation
Before you drive us all insane
Please don't say, "Play when I wanna play"
And tell me all my love's in vain

Braylon, you've got me on my knees
Braylon, your hands are like Swiss cheese
Braylon, catch Rex's disease – it's for Sanchize

Braylon, you've got me on my knees
Braylon, your hands are like Swiss cheese
Braylon, baller won't you ease my worried mind …