ENGLEWOOD • Safety Brian Dawkins is a great leader and that has helped the Denver Broncos. Those facts aren’t disputed by anyone on the team.
The Broncos lost great locker-room leaders like Rod Smith, Al Wilson, John Lynch and Keith Burns in a short span. All were gone by 2008 when the Broncos finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs.
The Broncos are 6-1 as they prepare to face Pittsburgh tonight. There have been plenty of reasons for the turnaround, but a boost in leadership has been a big one.
“Honestly, I never thought it would affect us as much as it did,” cornerback Champ Bailey said. “You don’t miss what you had until you have it again. You say ‘That made a difference.’ ”
Dawkins signed this offseason and has been the unquestioned leader of the Broncos, but how does someone measure how or if that equates to more wins on Sunday? Broncos coach Josh McDaniels explained that leadership manifests itself most during the week, as players prepare for a game. It also matters during games when the team faces adversity. McDaniels admitted coaches can only control the players so much. Without someone like Dawkins leading the way, bad habits can develop.
“You give the locker room to the players and they take care of that part of it,” McDaniels said. “The commitment and how they work on a weekly basis, they’re responsible for that. Ultimately, am I responsible? Sure. But when you have players like Brian and many of the other leaders we have in the locker room, you don’t have to say much.”
McDaniels said Dawkins wasn’t signed for his leadership. McDaniels had never met Dawkins before free agency began. Dawkins was signed because the Broncos thought he could still make plays. But his intangibles have been a hidden benefit. McDaniels now says Dawkins is one of the best leaders he has ever been around.
Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is recognized as one of the top leaders in the NFL. He thought that great leaders help a team’s record by creating valuable chemistry.
“Whether it’s a Michael Jordan or whoever, it was the leadership skills their coaches talk about that brought the team chemistry together,” Lewis said. “It was a certain person in the locker room that figured out that the coaches can say one thing or go so far, but me being a leader, I can bring a totally different perspective on things like that because I’m actually going through it with them. I think that’s what most leaders grab onto pretty quickly.”
Dawkins grew comfortable in his leadership role right away. He has said that he has spoken to players about off-field issues, sometimes drawing on his religious beliefs. Players respect his off-field habits and his on-field persona.
“You see a 35-year-old busting his butt every play, it’s crazy,” said Bailey, a Broncos captain but not a vocal leader by nature. “It motivates everyone else. It helps me pick up my game during the week. I know when I pick my game up, young guys are looking to me and pick their game up.”