Q. I love Brian Dawkins but my favorite Eagles safety is Wes Hopkins. How do you compare the two? Did Wes receive less recognition because he was surrounded by so many great defensive players?
A. I like Hopkins, too, but Dawkins was the better and more versatile safety. Hopkins was bigger (6-1, 212) than Dawkins and his equal as a hitter, but he could not run with Dawkins and he was not as effective in coverage. Dawkins also was a dynamic blitzer with uncanny timing.
Dawkins could play anywhere on the field in the box as a run defender, on the edge as a pass rusher, as a slot defender in man coverage and in the deep middle when the Eagles went zone. It is rare to find a safety that can do so many things.
When Jim Johnson saw what he had in Dawkins, he built his defense around him. Thats what made him such a special player and, in my opinion, a Hall of Famer. Dawkins created the mold of the new safety, which we see in players such as Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu.
No doubt Hopkins was overshadowed playing on the same defense as Reggie White, Seth Joyner and Jerome Brown. He was a very good player, but he never was the focal point of the Buddy Ryan defense in the way Dawkins was the centerpiece of Johnsons unit.
But Hopkins and Dawkins commanded similar respect around the NFL for their physical play. Receivers were reluctant to come over the middle when Hopkins and Dawkins were there. There should have been a stat for flinchespasses dropped by receivers who heard the footsteps of either safety because it happened all the time.
One day I was in the Arizona locker room and saw Ricky Proehl and Randal Hill reading the bulletin board. Proehl said, Check this out. He pointed to a press clipping that said Hopkins was cleared to play that week against the Cardinals.
Oh no, Hill said.
Two words, but they said it all.
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