When Josh McDaniels became head coach of the Denver Broncos at age 32, his top target in free agency was safety Brian Dawkins, who turns 36 next month.
"He doesn't look like it," McDaniels said. "When you watch him on tape, when you watch him on the field, he's playing as fast or faster than everybody else."
Dawkins, who left Philadelphia after 13 years when McDaniels offered him what essentially is a $9 million contract over two years, led the Broncos with 11 tackles and a ton of pep talks in their season-opening win at Cincinnati.
"The way that guy runs around the field, he saved a bunch of yards (Sunday) with open-field tackles," McDaniels said. "And his energy and leadership on the sideline is as good as any player I've ever seen."
McDaniels said that even with headphones on, he could hear Dawkins' constant chatter on the sideline.
"When I'm calling plays on offense, there's not one time that I don't hear him behind me, talking to the defense, talking to the punt team. It doesn't matter who it is, I can hear him," McDaniels said. "I'm hearing him behind me, and it's all positive, it's all the right things and it's not phony. It's real leadership."
There is "tremendous value in the things he says, and he's such a smart football player that as the game goes along" he makes the proper adjustments in the blink of an eye, McDaniels said.
It's the same thing he did for years in Philadelphia, where Dawkins energized entire stadiums with play that led the Eagles to five NFC championships and one Super Bowl and earned him trips to seven Pro Bowls.
"He brings an intensity to the game, even in practices," linebacker Mario Haggan said. "When you hear a guy like him speak, if you're not ready to play, you don't have a heart."
The Eagles knew Dawkins was still a three-down player with a bottomless battery, but they were reluctant to break the bank on a man in his mid-30s.
Not so McDaniels, who needed a playmaker on defense and a leader in the locker room.
"Well, he saw me as a safety, a playmaking safety," Dawkins said. "Our conversations had nothing to do with limitations or my age. And I respected that tremendously because I felt that I still can do what I need to do for my teammates, whether it be here or there."
While the Eagles figured they could replace his hard hits and big plays with young players such as Quentin Demps, Dawkins' presence in the locker room is what's missed most in Philadelphia, where teammates had tremendous respect for this deeply spiritual safety who was a mentor for younger players.
Dawkins is now introducing his style, skills and wisdom to Denver.
He's quiet and humble during the week, but his alter ego emerges on game days, when he transforms into an energetic, highly emotional player who can hardly contain himself as he runs out during pregame introductions. He shakes and gyrates when he comes out of the tunnel, and maintains that intensity until the final whistle.
"I'm a blessed and anointed man to do what I do and I don't take it for granted. I love what I do," Dawkins said. "It's an opportunity for me to go out and have a great time. People come to the game to have a great time. I go to the game to have a great time, so I'm not going to allow anything to deter me from that."
He's been doing it since he was a kid, although he was a bit muffled back then.
"High school is a little different. They tell you to tone it down. College, same thing, tone it down a little bit," Dawkins explained. "When I got to the NFL, I'm not trying to show off anybody, so I do what I do and my teammates love it."
Haggan said Dawkins doesn't just put on a show on Sundays but is just as intense in the classroom.
"It's the epitome of how to be a professional, how to play in this league a long time," Haggan said. "If some of the guys in the league can do half of the things he does, there would be a lot of guys a lot more successful."
Notwithstanding a hand injury that kept him out of practice Wednesday, Dawkins isn't showing many signs of slowing down as he approaches his birthday.
"I think with age obviously should come wisdom," Dawkins said. "I stretch a lot more, massage a lot more, have my (hyperbaric) chamber that I get in on a consistent basis. So, I take care of myself. I listen to my body. That's one thing that I've learned to do is listen to my body. My body's telling me something's off, I listen to it and I take care of it right away."
AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston contributed from Philadelphia.