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Dawkins ready for long-anticipated return

PHILADELPHIA -- Brian Dawkins did everything but wave pom-poms while he was injured.

The All-Pro safety paced the sideline in his sleeveless shirts, screaming, encouraging and motivating his teammates. His cheerleading days soon could be over.

Dawkins expects to play for the first time since a neck stinger forced him out in Week 2 when the Philadelphia Eagles host Dallas in an important NFC East matchup Sunday night.

"To be on the sideline and to be surrounded with the guys, and everyone is pumped-up and jacked-up, it's hard to contain yourself out there," Dawkins said Wednesday. "So, I've been going crazy also. This has been a different experience for me. I've had to still help the guys out, so it's taught me patience and it's taught me that in the midst of my adversity, I still have to help other people."

The Eagles (3-4) are getting their defensive leader back at the perfect time. The Cowboys (6-1) have a potent offense that trails only New England in total yards (402) and points (32.4) per game.

Though Quintin Mikell filled in nicely for Dawkins at free safety, the five-time Pro Bowl selection has been one of the top playmakers at his position for several years. He's a fierce competitor and ferocious tackler who can intimidate opponents simply by walking onto the field. No one wants to take a shot from No. 20.

"He's the heart and soul of our defense, and the heart and soul of this team," running back Brian Westbrook said. "When he's out on that field, this team is able to go to another level just by his presence and the play that he brings. When and if he gets back out there, as a team, we're definitely going to be excited. The defense needs him, and we'll be excited for him to get back out there. His presence will have an effect on the game."

Defense hasn't been a problem for the Eagles this season. No team has scored more than 21 points against Philly's D through seven games, and it has allowed just eight touchdowns in 77 possessions.

But the Eagles have just eight takeaways: three fumble recoveries and five interceptions. Perhaps Dawkins can spark a few more big plays, especially against Tony Romo, who is prone to making mistakes.

"I would love to hold a banner up and say it's because of me that we didn't get any turnovers, but it's not that," Dawkins said. "Those things come in bunches. With the pressure those guys are getting up front, I'm very surprised that we haven't been able to get more turnovers. But turnovers are a state of mind. That's something that we're going to continue to practice, continue to strive to get. We can go through a drought a couple of weeks and then all of a sudden get seven in one game."

The Eagles plan to ease Dawkins back into the mix, giving Mikell an opportunity to play, too. A special teams standout his first four seasons in Philadelphia, Mikell has been a pleasant surprise on the defense.

"I'm not going to be selfish about it," Mikell said. "It's whatever I can do to help the team, if it's play a snap here or there or whatever. Obviously part of me wants to be a starter, but I knew going in that it was until Dawk gets back."

Dawkins didn't play much in training camp because of Achilles' tendinitis, so he should be fresh heading into the second half of the schedule. The 12-year veteran struggled a bit during the middle of last season, but was dominant down the stretch. He had three interceptions, forced two fumbles and made a key sack in the first four games last December -- all wins.

If Dawkins inspires the defense to play at an even higher level, the Eagles could get themselves back in the mix in a mediocre conference.

"I don't want to get into a game and be at all tentative about doing what I do and playing the game that I play," Dawkins said. "I only know how to play one way. If I'm on the field playing any way other than that, then I'm not helping this team win."

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