For all the times Brent Celek practiced against Brian Dawkins and learned his tendencies in the two years they both spent on the Eagles, there remains some intrigue about Sunday.

"I'm excited to go against him because I never got a chance in a game," Celek said.

Besides all of the emotion leading up to Dawkins' return to Philadelphia and his anticipated pregame introduction, this whole situation presents a different challenge for the Eagles' coaches and players so familiar with Dawkins: Preparing to face the seven-time Pro Bowl safety on the field.

"When you play the game, your opponent is faceless, so you go after him," Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said.

With that said, Dawkins isn't exactly the typical opponent. And that will force the Eagles to change some parts of the offensive scheme that Dawkins is plenty familiar with, Mornhinweg said.

We will change "not much but a little bit," Mornhinweg said. "Just a touch, to keep them off balance."

In his final season with the Eagles, Dawkins often struggled in open space - knowledge the big-play Philadelphia offense will likely make use of Sunday.

In Denver, the 36-year-old Dawkins is a part of a pass defense that is vastly improved from last season. In 2008, Denver allowed 228.5 passing yards per game, 26th in the NFL. This season, the Broncos rank second, giving up 177.5 passing yards per game.

"They have guys who know what they're doing," Eagles wide receiver Jason Avant said. "When you have players in that secondary who have played as long as those guys, they don't make mistakes. It's their experience that makes them good."

And they're aggressive too, Mornhinweg said. While watching film, he noticed the defense has adopted Dawkins' personality.

"They use Brian very well," Mornhinweg said. "He has made some great plays throughout this year to help that defense. You know the style he plays with - a high motor. He has helped that defense, I think, in many ways. When Brian Dawkins steps on the field, he has juice. His level of play is still very high."

Head coach Andy Reid said the familiarity with Dawkins won't help the offense because they cannot game-plan against one player - even if there are perceived weaknesses.

"You can't go about it that way," Reid said. "You've got to evaluate their defense and utilize your strengths against what you consider would be, not that they have any weak spot, but what would be a weaker spot in their defense. It's hard to find a weak spot in this defense, but you try to find the matchups that are best."

While the starting cornerbacks - Champ Bailey and Andre' Goodman - are a big reason for the success, Dawkins is in the middle of it too. He has 100 tackles and has been credited with defending 11 passes, the most since 2005.

Dawkins has two interceptions, equaling his total from the past two seasons combined. He also has forced one fumble.

Now those impressive numbers could also mean opposing teams are targeting Dawkins more than before because of his declining skills. But the overall numbers show that the Denver secondary is better with the addition of Dawkins and Goodman, who was signed as a free agent from Miami.

Denver will typically sit back in quarters coverage, Mornhinweg said. That doesn't mean there are no ways to exploit it with a big play, wide receiver DeSean Jackson said.

"On film, you really don't see too many people making the attempt of going deep or anything like that," Jackson said. "This week we'll just stick to what we've been doing."

Quarterback Donovan McNabb said Dawkins will probably try to use his prior knowledge of the Eagles' offensive schemes and relay them to his defensive teammates during the game.

"But we can't get caught up in trying to change things because he used to be here," McNabb said.

Avant said it's difficult to game-plan against a safety. But given the Eagles' propensity for taking chances downfield and Dawkins' recent history in pass coverage, it's a plan the Eagles are likely to follow.

In dealing specifically with Dawkins, Avant said he has one strategy.

"Hit when he wants to hit," Avant said. "Don't take the hits. Give him some."

Contact staff writer Matt Gelb at 215-854-2928 or mgelb@phillynews.com.