Squad Leader  

 

NFC East: Vick's quiet approach has made him Eagles' leader

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Leaders come in all types. Some are quiet, some flamboyant, some spiritual, some charismatic. But in the NFL, they all have one thing in common: They are the guys their teammates follow in tough times and rally behind, the guys setting the tone at practice, the first ones there, the last ones to leave. They're the ones who have no fear of game deficits or the two-minute warning, the ones players turn to for direction in trying to achieve the ultimate team goal -- winning on Sundays. This week, NFL.com identifies the squad leaders of each team.

Squad Leaders:
» AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West
» NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West


With every team in the NFC East besides the Giants going through transition, leadership in the locker room might not be as solid as some of the teams positioning themselves for a playoff run. In fact, the lack of leadership in Dallas is a main reason cited for the Cowboys' unexpected meltdown and firing of coach Wade Phillips.

So let's take a look at who has the most juice in the locker rooms of teams in this division.

NFC East squad leaders

Eagles: QB Michael Vick

Despite being a one-time backup and missing playing time this season with rib injuries, Vick has captivated a very young locker room that used to boast leaders like Brian Dawkins, Brian Westbrook, Jon Runyan, and Donovan McNabb.

The transition of power came slowly over the past year, but Vick's engaging personality helped a process that could have been complicated. But it was eased with his humility. His teammates respected the former Pro Bowler's approach when he returned to the NFL in 2009. They respected his diligence and marveled at his athletic ability. The combination has made him a locker room, media and now, fan favorite. What a turnabout.

After gaining the starting job this season by virtue of anointed starter Kevin Kolb getting hurt in Week 1, Vick played at a level that helped Philadelphia win two of its first three games before his path to redemption was sidetracked by a rib injury. While down and out, Vick supported Kolb and said he'd be okay returning as the backup. Upon his return Sunday, Vick looked like he hadn't missed a step.

Vick is a quiet leader, but he has done an incredible job of showing everyone in the locker room how to handle things professionally -- something he once didn't always do.

Redskins: LB London Fletcher

It would be easy to assume that Donovan McNabb is the player looked to because of his reputation and the position he plays. However, Fletcher's consistent production on the field for the past 12 seasons, and his professional demeanor off it, make him one of the most respected players in the league, not just on his team.

He is well on pace to have his 10th consecutive season of more than 100 tackles. Despite his production, Fletcher didn't earn Pro Bowl recognition until last season. He was never pleased about the repeated slights, but he simply went out and played better each season, regardless.

Fletcher has gone through in-house discord throughout his career, but this summer, when teammate Albert Haynesworth didn't show up for a minicamp, he showed what leadership was about. He publicly expressed his dismay with Haynesworth's stance, backing up other teammates and absorbing some of the attention. Once Haynesworth reported, Fletcher learned to work with him but also made sure other players held themselves accountable instead of pointing fingers at Haynesworth.

Washington has another firestorm brewing after coach Mike Shanahan recently benched McNabb. Though McNabb will deal with things his own way, Fletcher will be the man who makes sure nobody forgets about doing his job.

Giants: DE Justin Tuck

This is a tough call because the Giants are stacked with leaders, including quarterback Eli Manning, guard Rich Seubert and center Shaun O'Hara.

Yet, it's defensive end Justin Tuck who people within the organization think commands and receives the most respect from teammates. He's a fearless player with a presence that captures attention when he enters a room. Tuck isn't afraid to share his mind, yet he's not too critical when he does.

The fact that he's so consistent (32 sacks since 2007, including four this season) helps his cause in a locker room full of strong personalities that have galvanized to make New York one of the top teams in the NFL.

That solidarity, yet also the willingness to allow players like Tuck to emerge when the time is right, is something every coach and general manager strives for when putting together a roster.

Cowboys: LB Keith Brooking

One of the biggest reasons cited for the Cowboys' 1-7 start is their lack of leadership -- especially on offense. There are dozens of alpha male-types in the locker room but few seem to assert the power to get the team's attention.

The player most frequently called upon -- better yet, who calls upon himself -- to try and get things going is 13-year linebacker Keith Brooking, who was imported via free agency from Atlanta in 2009. He immediately provided a fresh voice and, with his gung-ho approach to everything, teammates followed.

This season, Brooking has lost some of his impact because the team is losing and players know that he is tight with fired coach Wade Phillips. We've seen former top dog Bradie James reassert himself a little more, while Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jay Ratliff and no-nonsense veteran defensive end Marcus Spears also have tried to move to the forefront.

Tight end Jason Witten is considered the only person willing to step forward as a leader on offense, which is a problem. There is a lot of talent on that side of the ball but little accountability from player to player. That is another reason why Brooking is viewed with regard. He doesn't care who doesn't want to step forward, because he will.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.

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