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Dawkins' imprint remains strong with Broncos

NEWARK, N.J. -- When Tony Carter first met Brian Dawkins as a Broncos teammate he was too timid to remind him that they had met years before.

Carter was an undrafted rookie and Dawkins had just signed a free-agent contract after 13 seasons with the Eagles. But they had met years prior in Jacksonville, Fla., -- their native city -- when Carter was still in high school and Dawkins was his hero.

"I was probably too embarrassed to say that. But he knew who I was," Carter said. "And soon as we met each other he said, 'Duval County!' That's the same place we were from. So every time I see him he says, 'Home team.' We call each other 'Home team.' "

Dawkins' home NFL team is the Eagles. There is no confusion over that. But for three seasons the future Hall of Fame safety called Denver home. He still resides there. And his presence is still felt in the locker room, especially among the defensive backs, as the Broncos strive to finish out the season with a Super Bowl victory.

"There definitely is a little of Dawkins still in our locker room," Carter said Tuesday during Super Bowl media day at the Prudential Center. "He came out to practice last week. Guys respect great players in this league and he's definitely one of the best to do it. We all look up to him."

Even Champ Bailey. A future Hall of Famer in his own right, Bailey said Dawkins had an impact on his career even though he had already played 10 seasons before the intense safety arrived in 2009.

"Brian Dawkins -- one thing about him: He worked hard every day," Bailey said. "I already knew how to practice hard, but when I see a guy older than me and he's practicing harder than me, it elevated my game a little bit more. ... I didn't want him to outwork me. And he did it every day."

Bailey said that he and Dawkins remain close and that they spoke recently about what to expect at the Super Bowl. After 15 seasons and 12 Pro Bowls, Bailey is finally at the Super Bowl. Dawkins went with the Eagles in 2004 and, of course, they lost.

Bailey would not reveal Dawkins' words of wisdom, but safety David Bruton said that he spoke to the Broncos last week after practice.

"He said just enjoy the process," Bruton said. "Don't leave any stone unturned and just be prepared. You don't want to just make the trip and wind up with a loss."

Bruton, drafted in the fourth round out of Notre Dame, was also a rookie in 2009. He said he watched Dawkins closely to pick up tips on how to play the safety position at the professional level.

"It could be anything from how you study film to how you take on a pulling guard," Bruton said.

Bruton, a backup and special teams contributor, recalled seeing Dawkins "living in the hot tub keeping his legs fresh." His work ethic was what set him apart, every player interviewed said, and was the lasting imprint he had on the Broncos.

Carter said he's tried to copy Dawkins' routine of being the first and last player at the Broncos practice facility during game week.

"He's a professional. I try to follow that. That's why he was able to have such a long career and be productive for as long as he was," Carter said. "But I can't say I'm the first in, last out. We have a guy by the name of Peyton Manning."

Carter went to Mandarin High School in Jacksonville, while Dawkins attended William M. Raines. But he met his hometown idol when he was with the Eagles because he knew Dawkins' high school coach.

"I was in awe when I actually got to first play with him. I'm still in awe," Carter said. "He comes back, reaches out to me often and I'm just a fan of Brian Dawkins."

Mike Adams was another young safety who grew up idolizing Dawkins. He said he started watching him closely with the Eagles when he was playing college football at nearby Delaware.

When Dawkins had decided to retire after the 2011 season, Denver signed Adams as a free agent. He not only was slated to replace Dawkins, but he would wear his No. 20 jersey. Adams said Dawkins contacted him after he joined the Broncos to offer advice.

"He just was like, 'Hey, Mike, there's no pressure. Just do your thing. Just focus and play like you play because no one can do that but you,' " Adams said. "Because they made a big deal about me having his number."

The Eagles retired Dawkins' No. 20 in 2012. Even though it has been six years since he last played with the Eagles, Dawkins' shadow still looms large over the franchise. The team has yet to find half the player to fill his position.

But it isn't just the Eagles that have benefitted from having Dawkins wear their uniform.

"One thing about him -- wherever he's been, people remember because that's just the type of person he is," Bailey said. "And it's not like he's trying to get that attention. The guy is just an impressive man, impressive pro. I was just lucky to play with him."

(c)2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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