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Taking Out the Trash Talk

Eagle defenders are masters at intimidating opponents with hard hits, not demeaning words

January 18, 2003|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA -- They don't talk about hitting people.

Bobby Taylor, Troy Vincent, Brian Dawkins. They hit people really hard. These Eagles in the secondary knock out mouthpieces with their tackles. But then they put on their glasses, go home and read good books.

Vincent and Taylor are partners in a business that offers financial, insurance and small-business services.

Hugh Douglas, defensive end, has a mouth on him. But it's used mostly to crack jokes. He is no Warren Sapp.

It's hard to even name the other Eagle defenders.

They are studious and polite. They are solicitous of others. They speak more often of their families than the mayhem they commit on football fields.

They were not featured on an HBO trash-talkfest, as were Tampa Bay defenders Sapp and Derrick Brooks. They rolled their eyes at the show.

The Eagle defense was supposed to suffer after two-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter was allowed to become an unrestricted free agent and head to division-rival Washington.

Trotter had been a linchpin of a defense that had given up the second-fewest points in the NFL a year ago, but Trotter, a loud talker and boisterous, had rubbed Coach Andy Reid the wrong way. Trotter proclaimed he wasn't happy with how things were going, even as the Eagles made it to the NFC championship game, and so he was set free.

And now?

"I think our defense is better than last year," says Taylor, who was named, along with Dawkins and 11-year veteran Vincent, to the Pro Bowl. "I think we are more solid."

The Eagles rank fourth in the league in total defense. Last year, they were seventh. The defense has a league-high 56 sacks and finished second again in points allowed -- to Tampa's talkers.

"It's been another year of this system," Dawkins says. "We've had some new guys come in and do the job and with the other guys, yeah, we're better defensively. I guess that's a surprise to some people."

Levon Kirkland, cut by the Seattle Seahawks during the summer, replaced Trotter. Darwin Walker, cut by the Arizona Cardinals, one game into his rookie year in 2000, was claimed by the Eagles and spent two years apprenticing. This season, Walker replaced right tackle Hollis Thomas, who broke a foot in training camp. Walker had 7 1/2 sacks, which tied him for second among tackles.

Linebacker Shawn Barber, who signed with the Eagles a year after tearing a right knee ligament while playing for the Redskins, was second among the Eagles in tackles and made friends with Eagle fans when, in his first game, he intercepted a pass and recovered two fumbles against Tennessee. In his free time, Barber plays fantasy football, better to keep in touch with friends and relatives back home in Richmond, Va.

Mixed in with the veterans is third-year tackle Corey Simon, whose 17 sacks in his first two NFL seasons put him fifth all-time among tackles. An early-season ankle injury and constant double teaming helped keep Simon down to two sacks this season, but he had 24 quarterback hurries.

Dawkins says, "All of us are real confident in what we do. I call what we do 'controlled chaos.' We go out and try to attack as much as possible. We try to confuse you a lot with disguises and moving around. We have a real good front four that can really get to the quarterback, but it all starts with the disguising."

The disguising, the heavy doses of blitzes, the aggressiveness, all are engineered by 61-year-old defensive coordinator Jim -- "Don't call me Jimmy" -- Johnson.

"We like to set the pace, the tone," Johnson says. "We always, always want to put pressure, not only physical pressure but mental pressure, on the offense. We like the other team to worry about us."

When the Eagles beat the Buccaneers earlier this season, 20-10, Walker, Simon and N.D. Kalu all sacked Tampa quarterback Brad Johnson -- three sacks in seven plays. After the fifth sack, Johnson had to leave the game with broken ribs.

That was pressure. Physical pressure and mental pressure.

"We have a natural confidence playing Tampa," Jim Johnson says. "We know this team, we know what it takes to beat this team. But we also have a lot of respect for Tampa. Brad Johnson is a tough quarterback. We'll have to do some different things this time."

So the Eagles will blitz. A lot. Sometime. When? The Buccaneers aren't going to know. Eight of Philadelphia's 56 sacks this season came from the secondary.

"It's going to be a tough task for us," says Taylor, who had five interceptions this season. "We feel like we can match up well against Tampa, but that's no guarantee we're going to have success."

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