Healthy Dawkins retires an all-time great

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Healthy Dawkins retires an all-time great

Brian Dawkins knows he can still play football.

And thats why he decided it was time to walk away.

That may sound crazy, he said. But knowing I can still play this game at least another year gave me a lot of peace. Itd be better to step away a year too early than a year too late.

Dawkins, one of the greatest Eagles ever, announced his retirement on Monday after 16 NFL seasons, the first 13 with the Eagles.

And for Dawk, there will be no unretiring.

Once I say its over, its over, Dawkins said. And its over.

Dawkins was named to nine Pro Bowl teams, and only two safeties in NFL history -- Hall of Famers Ken Houston and Ronnie Lott -- have been named to more.

Although Dawkins has been banged up the last couple years -- stingers in his neck limited him to 11 starts in 2010 and 12 in 2011 -- he said hes actually 100 percent healthy now and not retiring because of the injuries.

I know a lot of people want to speculate about my age or the neck or whatever, and they can do that all they want, said Dawkins, who turns 39 in October.

I always said I would know when it was time. ... I made a promise to myself and in prayer that when I made peace with me stepping away from the game, that at that time, it was time for me to stop playing.

I cant say that my desire isnt where it used to be or anything of that nature. Its just the fact of being at peace with stepping away from the game knowing that I could play the game another year.

Dawkins is one of only two safeties in NFL history with at least 25 career sacks and 35 interceptions. The other is Rodney Harrison.

He was picked to the NFLs Team of the Decade for 2000 through 2009 and was also selected to the Eagles All-Time Team.

Along with Steve Van Buren, Reggie White, Tommy McDonald and Chuck Bednarik, Dawkins is considered one of the greatest players in the franchises 79-year history.

And without question, the most popular Eagle of this generation.

The love and devotion Eagles fans have for Dawkins? Its mutual. Like perhaps no other athlete in the citys history, he not only understood what the fans were feeling. He always felt it, too.

One of the things that Ive been blessed with or cursed with is I played with all of my emotions on my sleeve, and you can kind of read me pretty easily by the way Im feeling on game day, Dawkins said in a conference call with Philly writers Monday afternoon.

I like to try my best to not disappoint people. I purposely try and go out and do my best to make sure my coaches, teammates and fans know that I gave it my all on the football field.

With me playing as long as I did in Philadelphia, I heard what they said. I didnt just hear it, I heard and listened to what they said. I felt the pain they had from past failures and the way they are treated sometimes in the media. I heard those things, and I took it to heart and I understood them.

The thing that I always wanted to do is to go out and put a certain product on the field to have those certain entities proud of me when the game was over. Hopefully, I have poured everything emotionally and physically out on the field.

Dawkins became a full-time starter three weeks into his rookie year of 1996 when Ray Rhodes inserted him in the lineup ahead of Eric Zomalt. But Dawkins didnt become a star until legendary Jim Johnson became his defensive coordinator in 1999. From 1999 until his retirement, he made the Pro Bowl team all nine years in which he played in at least 14 games.

Dawkins and Johnson are inexorably linked in Eagles history. And for both, the 2008 NFC Championship Game loss to Arizona was the end of their remarkable Eagles tenures. Dawkins signed with the Broncos on March 9, 2009, and Johnson lost his courageous battle with cancer on July 28.

The Eagles have not won a playoff game since.

Dawkins spoke Monday of his fondest and most disappointing moments in 13 years as an Eagle, and both revolve around Johnson and an NFC Championship Game.

His best memory? The Eagles 2004 NFC Championship Game win over Michael Vick and the Falcons.

It was, without question, and I didnt even have to think about it, when we finally won the NFC Championship Game after losing how many times in a row three, he said. The exuberance, the joy, the feeling of a burden lifted off of your back. And to see the joy on Jim Johnsons face, the late and great Jim Johnson, to see the joy in his face and the tears in his eyes when he grabbed me and said, Dawk, we did it, we did it!

Ill never forget that, and thatll be something that will always stand out among so many great moments I had in Philadelphia. That will be one that will stand out the most.

Four years later, the Eagles played in another NFC Championship Game but lost to the Cardinals, 32-25, in Glendale, Ariz. Thats Dawks lowest moment.

As low as the Super Bowl was, and it was a low, I still had the sense that we well be back, weve got a shot to get back, he said. So it hurt. It hurt bad. But when we lost to the Cardinals ... thats why I apologized to the fans. Because I felt that real bad, because it was not 100 percent that I was going to be back. I didnt know at the time, I was hoping at the time that I would be back. Didnt know. And to know that Jim was as sick as he was. He wasnt letting off how bad he was, but I could tell that he was hurting pretty good.

Its been more than three years since Dawkins sent Philly spiraling into a city-wide depression by signing with the Broncos. There were a lot of hurt feelings, a lot of angry words, a lot of ill will.

But just the fact that the Eagles have already planned a night in his honor in September is evidence that relations between the Eagles and one of their greatest players have thawed a bit.

And it wasnt the Broncos that arranged for his retirement press conference Monday. it was the Eagles.

It erases some of the negative feelings, Dawkins said. Those things happen, theres nothing you can do about those things. You can learn from the mistakes in the past and hopefully not make the same things in the future. You forgive, you forget. What you forgive, you still remember, but it does not hurt as bad as it did at the time.

Theres going to always be pain, theres going to always be feelings there. It is. It just is. ... Theres always going to be pain there. You know, there will always be pain. At the same time, I understand that community, the fans, Philadelphia and my teammates meant so much to me. They mean so much to me. And I would never allow something that happened years back to prevent me from allowing all the celebrating.
E-mail Reuben Frank at rfrank@comcastsportsnet.com

Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere excited to represent Canada, North America in World Cup

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Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere excited to represent Canada, North America in World Cup

Flyers captain Claude Giroux has a word of advice for rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere when the two meet each other as opponents in this fall's World Cup of Hockey.

"The last few weeks, I told him to keep his head up," Giroux said Friday night on a conference call after both players were added to World Cup rosters.

"I'm pretty excited to go on the forecheck against him. It's pretty impressive what this kid has been able to do this year. To see it right beside him, he's got so much potential.
 
"To be on this team will only help him be better."
 
Giroux was named to Team Canada's roster, while Gostisbehere, the NHL's top rookie defenseman, was penciled in on Team North America (see story).

You may recall Giroux was overlooked by Team Canada for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
 
"That was a little disappointing," Giroux said. "Any time you have a chance to represent your country and go play for them, you hope to get the call. I was a little disappointed for that. To be able to be on this team, I'm excited and I"m ready for the challenge."

Team North America is a unique blend of age 23-and-under players who will compete in the eight-team tournament starting in mid-September.

Whether the veteran athletes competing for other countries take this young stars contingent seriously on the international stage is subject to debate.

"I hope some teams would take us seriously," Gostisbehere said, "because I think we're pretty darn good. It's a different dynamic.
  
“You don’t have the veteran presence per say, but some of the guys on the team have been playing in the NHL for three years already. It’s definitely going to be a fun experience.”
 
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was also named to the tournament, playing for Team Europe.
 
“I am really surprised and excited,” Bellemare said in a statement. “I am happy that the way I played with the Flyers has helped me get a chance to play in the World Cup for Team Europe. I think this is going to be a celebration of hockey and it is surreal that I get to be in the middle of it.”
 
Both Giroux and Gostisbehere have been rehabbing at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey, since their hip and abdominal surgeries on May 17.

Bellemare will go into the tournament fully healthy, while Giroux and Gostisbehere will not. Giroux had reservations about undergoing surgery if it meant his exclusion from the tournament, sources said.
 
“The surgery was a little question mark,” Giroux said. “Maybe not so much for me, but for them. I don’t know what they were thinking. The rehab has gone very well right now. There’s no issue as to why I wouldn’t be ready for that tournament.”
 
Gostisbehere is no stranger to serious rehab from surgery. He missed nearly all of the 2014-15 season as a Phantom with a torn ACL in his left knee.
 
“It’s the same sort of rehab I did with my knee,” Gostisbehere said of his current rehab.  “We’re going to keep going down the line knowing something is at the end of the line for us. We gotta really focus.”
 
The 23-year-old Gostisbehere, who is a finalist for the Calder Trophy, which will be announced in late June, said he was humbled by the selection.
 
“It’s a tremendous honor,” he said. “The whole format of the tournament is pretty cool to see. … It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
 
The Flyers have eight players competing. Chicago has an NHL-high of 12.

Eagles mailbag: Pederson as a coach; running backs; Spikes

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Eagles mailbag: Pederson as a coach; running backs; Spikes

The Eagles are in the middle of Phase 3 of the NFL's offseason program in the CBA. That means they're well into OTAs, with another round set to start Tuesday and run through Friday. 

After that, the team will have a mandatory minicamp June 7-9, followed by a long break before training camp. 

There's plenty to talk about on this Memorial Day Weekend, so let's hop into your questions: 

This question is referring to the yearly USA Today list of the best coaches in the NFL. The list ranked Pederson at No. 30 in a group with the other first-year coaches. Adam Gase is 28, Ben McAdoo 29, Pederson 30 and Dirk Koetter 31.

"We’re lumping all of the first-year coaches together, because no one really knows how they’ll fare as head coaches," Steven Ruiz writes. 

OK, sure. 

Really, this isn't saying Pederson is a bad coach, just an unknown, which is true. I guess for the purpose of the list, he has to go somewhere. Actually, I'm surprised he's higher than Koetter, who has more experience. 

We're not sure how Pederson will be as a coach. Shortly after he was hired, I penned this column, which still holds true. Just because the Pederson hire wasn't very popular, it doesn't mean he won't be a good head coach.

Really, we won't know for a while. 

I've been asked this a few times over the last few weeks, and I understand why. The Eagles are certainly weak at the running back spot, with Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner. But I still don't see them adding anyone. 

The team drafted Smallwood and he's the key to this. They should see how he looks in training camp and even in preseason games before trying to pick anyone else up. If he can be a decent contributor this year, they can start to bring him along and groom him to be the starter. If he isn't going to be a contributor, then maybe it's time to look around a little bit. 

Another thing: there's not a ton of talent out there right now. And if anyone is still on the street, there's probably a reason for that. 

Q: Dave, you think Brandon Spikes should get a chance? He has played for Jim Schwartz before. - Joey (@MrJoey98)

Interesting name. Yes, Spikes did play for Jim Schwartz in Buffalo in 2014 and the Eagles already have three players on that team with these Eagles. 

But the team would have to weigh the positives and negatives of bringing him in. Spikes was released by the Patriots last season — he didn't' take a snap in 2015 — after he pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a car crash. 

The Eagles have nearly no depth at linebacker, but would Spikes, now 28, be worth it? Not sure. Probably not, though. 

Phillies prospect Rhys Hoskins looking to steadily advance through minors

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Phillies prospect Rhys Hoskins looking to steadily advance through minors

READING, Pa. – There is a photo atop Rhys Hoskins’ Twitter page that shows the Reading Fightin Phils first baseman, a Sacramento native, seated on a rock and looking out over Lake Tahoe, as well as the horizon beyond.

“Just keep livin’,” it says elsewhere on the page.

“As clichéd as it sounds, I try to stay where I am, day to day – take care of what I have to do that day,” he said Thursday, after hitting a solo homer in Reading’s 7-4 victory over Erie. “Life’s going to throw a lot of stuff at you, so just keep on going.”

The 23-year-old Hoskins, a fifth-round pick of the Phillies in 2014, as a result has managed to remain in the moment, but not without expanding his horizons – all the way to Australia, where he played winter ball this past offseason, and one day, he can only hope, Citizens Bank Park.

“I set a goal with my dad, as soon as I got drafted – a (minor-league) level a year, as long as I kept on progressing,” he said. “Try not to get caught somewhere.”

So far, so good. He spent 2014 at Williamsport, the short-season A-ball affiliate, and tore it up while splitting last season between two other Class A clubs, Lakewood and Clearwater. And recently he has begun to rake for the Double-A Fightins, a team featuring such other prospects as catcher Jorge Alfaro, rightfielder Dylan Cozens and pitcher Ben Lively.

Hoskins hit .450 while being named the Phillies Minor League Review Player of the Week for the week of May 16-22, and followed that up by hitting a walk-off grand slam Tuesday against Erie, in addition to his blast Thursday.

Overall, his stat line will not overwhelm – he was hitting .269 with nine homers and 32 RBIs in 45 games through Friday – but the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder is at least another name to consider going forward, as the big-league club continues its rebuild.

As for the others: Alfaro, the jewel of the Cole Hamels trade last year with Texas, was hitting .339 entering Saturday's games, and Cozens, a second-round pick in 2012, was leading the Eastern League with 13 homers and second in RBIs with 40. Lively, acquired from Cincinnati for Marlon Byrd in December 2014, was 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA in nine starts.

Certainly Hoskins understands the first-base pecking order, with Ryan Howard in obvious decline. Tommy Joseph is off to a promising start for the big-league club, and Darin Ruf is at Triple A Lehigh Valley. 

At the same time, Hoskins tries not to dwell too much on such things.

“If you get caught looking ahead,” he said, “you probably miss some stuff, where you’re at right now.”

All told he hit .319 with 19 homers and 90 RBIs in his two stops last season, then asked the Phillies to arrange a winter-ball destination. They sent him to Sydney, and he excelled there, too – .323 with eight homers and 38 RBIs, in 42 games.

“The baseball was fun, a lot of fun,” he said. “I was able to get some more work in, but I think more than anything it’s a life experience. … Not too many people get to spend three months in a country on the other side of the world, especially when someone else is paying for it.”

The season ran from October to January – part of Australia’s summer – and he remained for a few weeks afterward, touring not only that country but nearby New Zealand.

No telling when he might ever be back there. 

He does have some idea of where he’d like to be, baseball-wise, but everything in its time. He’s just going to keep livin’ and continue to focus on the task at hand.