IT WAS A weird feeling for Brian Dawkins, when he first came to Philadelphia in 1996, to find out there were actual places in the city where kids didn't have a decent plot of grass where they could play football.

That threw Dawkins for a loop, considering the playground in his hometown of Jacksonville, wasn't exactly the field of dreams, but was equipped with enough basketball courts, baseball diamonds and football fields that kids had a safe outlet.

So yesterday, when Dawkins had a chance to partner with the NFL and Home Depot to restore the patchy, divot-infested area they called a football field at the Roxborough YMCA, he was more than pleased to trade in football gloves for a pair of garden gloves for a day.

"Days like this are very important," Dawkins said just before he displayed his carpentry skills on a wooden picnic table. "You don't just live for yourself. Everything you have is not just for you. I have been blessed with a lot playing this game so if I can give back to the community where I'm at or even at home, I'm definitely going to do it."

Through the Home Depot NFL Neighborhood MVP program, Dawkins and 16 other NFL players will be recognized for their positive impact in their communities through charitable programs and contributions. At the end of the year, one player will be honored as the Home Depot NFL Neighborhood MVP of the Year during the week of Super Bowl XLII and will receive a $25,000 donation to the charity of his choice.

Just as much as Dawkins was honored to restore the football field in Roxborough, he knows his duties this week lie in refurbishing a bitter Eagles team, still befuddled over its 16-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

Dawkins, who had three tackles, said while there is still a sour taste in many of the players' mouths, that doesn't imply they are letting what happened get in the way of what they want to accomplish against the Redskins on Monday night.

"You don't change anything, you just keep with the same thing," Dawkins said. "You can't be uptight or short-tempered in practice based off what happened last week because guys around you will sense that."

Especially the guys who got all the attention after the loss to the Packers. That would be Greg Lewis, whose muffed punt in the first half gave the Packers their only touchdown of the game, and J.R. Reed, whose failure to secure a fair catch in the fourth quarter led to the winning field goal.

Dawkins said he hadn't talked much to the two players about their costly plays because what's done is done. Instead, much like the valuable work he does in the community, he lets his actions as a leader speak volumes.

"It's not so much what you say and tell them but more about your behavior and your attitude in the response to a loss," Dawkins said.

Later yesterday, the Birds cut Reed and signed returner Reno Mahe to a 1-year deal.

Even with Lito Sheppard, who left during the first half with a sprained right knee, out again after Week 1 for the second straight year, Dawkins said he was confident that William James and Joselio Hanson will be able to step in.

Dawkins said Sheppard was doing fine but with Sheppard's history of early-season injuries, Dawkins wants the cornerback to take his time before returning.

James will take over the starting role while Hanson will inherit the nickel position.

Last year James, who signed with the Eagles on Halloween, played in four games and had seven tackles. Hanson played in all 16 games and made just one start, against Green Bay, and had six tackles against the Packers. He had 34 tackles during the season.

"They've done it before when Lito went down last year so they know what's ahead of them," Dawkins said. "Both guys have been starters at some point, so they know the pressure that's on them and that we expect them to play at an even higher level. And to be honest with you, I don't think they expect any less of themselves." *