Tip Sheet notes: They've got a lot left
Safeties Dawkins, 36, and Sharper, 33, prove age is no issue
Originally Published: October 23, 2009By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com
Derick Hingle/Icon SMISaints safety Darren Sharper returns an interception 99 yards for a touchdown against the Jets in Week 4, one of his five picks this season.Together they are 69 years of age and have combined for 27 seasons of NFL experience, 93 interceptions, 360 regular-season starts and 11 Pro Bowl appearances. Those numbers suggest that free safeties Brian Dawkins of Denver and Darren Sharper of New Orleans might be better suited to pursuing their secondary careers rather than playing in the once-maligned secondaries of their respective NFL teams. On the other hand, the veteran safeties are an aggregate 11-0 in 2009, defensive anchors of two of the NFL's four remaining undefeated franchises, and they are much more into detonating pass patterns than dozing off in a rocking chair.
"You can't beat experience, at least if a guy can still play, and these two definitely can still play," said Broncos secondary coach Ed Donatell. The veteran safety pair is getting considerable attention not only for playing so well in their 30s, but because they have helped transform historically weak defenses. Dawkins and, to a lesser extent, Hill (signed as a veteran free agent from Miami as the Broncos reinvented their defense this spring) have been standouts in Denver's defensive metamorphosis. Playing their new 3-4 front, the 6-0 Broncos are second in the league in overall defense and have surrendered the fewest points per game (11.0). This a year after Denver finished 29th in the former category and 30th in the latter (28.0 ppg). Dawkins doesn't yet have an interception, but he has 38 tackles and six passes defensed, and has made solid tackling (an unfortunately overlooked art in the NFL) a staple of the reshaped Denver secondary. New Orleans, which finished No. 26 in overall defense and average points allowed (24.6) in 2008, is currently ninth and ninth (18.6), respectively. Not since Mark Carrier of the Chicago Bears posted 10 interceptions in 1990 has a safety registered double-digit pickoffs in a season. Sharper, who led the league in 2000 with nine interceptions, is already halfway there, with a league-best five. "I think I'm playing smarter now than at any other point in my career," said Sharper, who signed a one-year, $1.8 million deal with the Saints this spring. "And I'm definitely using that knowledge a lot better."
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesSafety Brian Dawkins has 38 tackles and six passes defensed for the No. 2-ranked Broncos defense.
To read the rest of Tip Sheet notes -- including which players drew the most interest at the trade deadline and Nick Saban's role in Drew Brees' signing with the Saints -- you must be an ESPN Insider.
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