Ray's Replies: Dawkins will have his day

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Ray's Replies: Dawkins will have his day

Q. You wrote a piece recently citing five former Eagles that you felt deserved to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame but weren’t. I don’t disagree with any of your choices, although I must admit Al Wistert was before my time. But I was shocked you did not include Brian Dawkins on your list. Don’t you think he deserves to be in Canton?

--Sully
NE Philadelphia

A. I should have made it clear that I was writing about former Eagles who were eligible for the Hall of Fame but were passed over. Brian Dawkins is not yet eligible. The rules are that a player must be retired for five full seasons before he is eligible for election. Dawkins won’t be eligible until 2017.

But in answer to your question, I absolutely believe Dawkins deserves to be in Canton. I feel he deserves to be voted in on the first ballot. Whether he is or not remains to be seen -- the voting can be very unpredictable -- but he deserves it. He was a great player.

I don’t have to make the argument to an Eagles fan. Anyone who watched Dawkins play for 13 seasons with the Eagles knows his impact. He could play the run, he could blitz as well as any linebacker (he had 21 sacks), he could cover a receiver one-on-one or in a zone, his mere presence could discourage an opponent from going across the middle.

Jim Johnson, the late defensive coordinator, referred to Dawkins as a Swiss Army knife because he could do so many things. The Eagles had some talented defensive players in those years -- Hugh Douglas, Jeremiah Trotter and Troy Vincent all went to the Pro Bowl -- but Dawkins was the key. Each opponent started its game planning by asking: “What do we do with No. 20?”

Dawkins changed the perception of safeties as second-tier players. He showed what a versatile and talented athlete can do -- and how many ways he can impact a game -- from the safety position. He was the prototype for the current wave of big-play safeties like Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu and Earl Thomas. It is fair to say Dawkins pioneered a whole new approach to defense.

There are only 10 safeties in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and three of those spent part of their careers at cornerback: Ronnie Lott, Mel Renfro and Rod Woodson. There hasn’t been a pure safety voted into the Hall of Fame since Paul Krause in 1998. So Dawkins is not a slam-dunk in the same way, say, Reggie White was. But Dawk was so good for so long I have to believe he will have his day in Canton.

Jay Wright amazed by Joel Embiid's improvements since Kansas

Jay Wright amazed by Joel Embiid's improvements since Kansas

Jay Wright remembers facing Joel Embiid's Kansas team, and he's shocked by the improvements Embiid made while sitting out the last two years.

"Could you imagine not playing for two years and getting better?" Wright said Friday on TCN's Breakfast on Broad. "We played against him in college and he was not close — he was good, but not close to the player that he was at the start of this year. 

"What [the Sixers'] staff did while he was out is incredible. I don't know what other pro athlete has done that or could do that — not play and improve drastically.

"He's a unique force. We haven't seen a guy that's got this will defensively and ability defensively and then the skill level and mobility offensively. I've heard some people compare him to (Hakeem) Olajuwon. He's far more mobile than Olajuwon. Olajuwon, offensively, had his set of skills, which [Embiid] will develop. But the mobility he's got far exceeds Olajuwon. He's exciting. ... It's nice to feel this vibe with the Sixers right now."

Wright was also asked if he, as a coach, would want a player on a minutes restriction participating in the All-Star Game.

"Yeah, I would," he said. "I think that it's such an accomplishment for Joel Embiid. It would build his confidence so much to be on the floor with those guys and realize he's earned this. And to have that a part of his psyche going into the next season — 'OK, I've already been separated during the regular season with those guys, I belong with those guys.' So next year I'm thinking, 'I wanna beat these guys, I wanna be better than these guys.' 

"I think it'll be great for him. I think it's awesome ... what Brett Brown and his staff have done with this guy."

As lucky as good?
With a national championship and another No. 1 ranking this season, it would be understandable if Wright was feeling himself right about now. 'Nova is 17-1 and back atop the AP poll after a brief stint at No. 3.

National Player of the Year candidate Josh Hart is leading the way for the Wildcats with 18.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. A lot of Villanova's success this season is owed to Hart's decision to return for his senior year, so Wright has no issue admitting there's been some luck involved in the Wildcats' recent success.

"It's a tremendous advantage and it's really been probably the most important factor in our success the last three, four years," Wright said of 'Nova's senior leadership Friday on TCN's Breakfast on Broad.

"A lot of it is, on Villanova's side, luck. Josh Hart could have left last year. He just looked at it and kind of said, 'I could be maybe a late first-round, early [second-round pick]. I'd rather come back and get my degree.' 

"Having people that make that choice, you're lucky. If we lose him last year, we're a lot younger team this year. Daniel Ochefu the year before was faced with that decision. He stayed. 

"So when you get those guys that decide they're gonna stay, you catch a break because they're invaluable, a senior of that level. Daniel's playing in the NBA now. So we had a guy for a year that was an NBA player. And we have that with Josh this year. Kris (Jenkins) is developing into one, Darryl (Reynolds) has a chance."

Villanova, which destroyed Seton Hall 76-46 on Monday, hosts Providence Saturday at noon.

Gregg Popovich on Sixers: 'One of my joys in life to watch them win'

Gregg Popovich on Sixers: 'One of my joys in life to watch them win'

When Brett Brown agreed to become the Sixers' head coach, he knew he was embarking upon a unique challenge with a franchise that planned to be as methodical as possible in its rebuild. 

One of the results was a career record for Brown of 47-199 entering this season, a record so lopsidedly poor that Brown may never break the .500 mark.

But the Sixers are finally showing real progress, with a star in Joel Embiid and young players who are turning out to be useful pieces. The Sixers have won seven of their last nine, and there's no one happier to see that than Brown's former boss and mentor, Gregg Popovich.

"It's one of my joys in life to watch them win basketball games because if there's any team that deserves it, it's those guys," Popovich told ESPN.

Brown and the Sixers aren't out of the woods yet. At 14-26, they're still closer to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, but the entire vibe around the team has changed. 

"They've had it really tough for all the obvious reasons," said Popovich, who has been the Spurs' head coach since 1996 and worked with Brown from 2002-13.

"There's nobody in our business that is more positive, and more day-to-day upbeat and ready to teach and love than Brett Brown. He's a unique, unique guy."