The Philadelphia Eagles are turning to a rookie to replace Brian Dawkins.

Victor 'Macho' Harris took snaps with the first-team defense Monday, a strong indication he's beaten out second-year pro Quintin Demps for the starting spot at free safety.

"I had an opportunity and I didn't capitalize on it," Demps said after a closed practice. "That's competition. That's what happens."

Demps was considered the favorite for the job after Dawkins, a perennial Pro Bowl pick during 13 seasons in Philadelphia, signed with Denver in free agency. He entered training camp competing with veteran Sean Jones, a former starter with Cleveland. But Harris made the biggest impression on new defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.

A fifth-round draft pick out of Virginia Tech, Harris played cornerback and also saw action as a returner and wide receiver during his four seasons with the Hokies. He had 15 interceptions in 40 starts, returning four of those picks for touchdowns.

"He just had that hunger," Demps said. "When you first come in, like I came in last year, you have nothing to lose. My second year, I felt like I had a lot to lose, so I was playing not to lose instead of to win."

Demps, a fourth-round pick last season, played primarily on special teams as a rookie and worked his way on the field in the secondary late in the season. He worked with the starters throughout the preseason.

"We're all men. There ain't no sugarcoating it," Demps said. "It is what it is."

Demps will serve as the gunner on special teams and could be the backup kick returner. He averaged 25.3 yards on 52 kickoff returns last season, including a 100-yard TD against Baltimore. But Ellis Hobbs will be handling those duties this year.

"If I didn't start (at safety), I wanted to return kicks," he said. "I'm just going to come to work, pin my ears back and play football."

The Eagles also will have a new middle linebacker this season after losing Stewart Bradley to a knee injury early in training camp. Omar Gaither, a former starter, beat out Joe Mays for that job.