CHAMPIONSHIPS are built with a lot of different pieces.
They are built with high-round, high-expectation draft picks like Jeremy Maclin and Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley and LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson. And they are built with mid- and late-round finds like Trent Cole and Brent Celek and Moise Fokou.
They are built with Neiman-Marcus Pro Bowlers that you spent a small fortune to acquire, like Asante Samuel and Jason Peters. They are built with guys you were willing to give a second chance, like Michael Vick.
They also are built with guys you got off the scrap heap. Guys like defensive tackle Antonio Dixon and cornerback Dimitri Patterson and fullback Owen Schmitt.
Dixon, Patterson and Schmitt all were signed by the Eagles after being cut by other teams - Dixon by the Redskins, Patterson by the Chiefs and Schmitt by the Seahawks. They not only have found homes on the Eagles' roster, but have played key roles for a team that has won its sixth NFC East title in the last 10 years.
The 6-3, 322-pound Dixon has become one of the keys to a run defense that has held opponents to 89.1 rushing yards per game and 3.8 yards per carry over the last 10 games.
Patterson, who will make his eighth straight start at right cornerback tonight against the Vikings, has four interceptions for a defense that has a league-high 23.
Schmitt who was signed one game into the season after Leonard Weaver went down with a season-ending knee injury, is the team's No. 1 fullback and has a career-high 18 receptions for the league's sixth-ranked passing offense.
"These are the fun ones," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said. "The first-rounders, the big-money free-agent signees, the expectations are through the roof on those guys. But when you find guys like these three and they pan out, it's kind of fun."
It's also pretty critical to a team's success in a sport such as football, in which injuries often can determine the outcome of a season and the winner of a Super Bowl.
"You need guys like them," Roseman said. "That's what you try to do as a scouting staff. Help the coaches as best you can by giving them viable options."
Dixon was signed by the Redskins in 2009 as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Miami, but was cut just before the season began. The Eagles claimed him off waivers.
He saw limited action as a rookie, but replaced Bunkley at right tackle in Week 5 this year after Bunkley injured his elbow. Bunkley missed only two games, but Dixon played so well in his absence that he has remained the starter, with Bunkley rotating in.
In the Eagles' first four games, they gave up 22 runs of 10-plus yards and 33 rushing first downs. In the last 10 with Dixon taking the lion's share of reps at right tackle: 18 and 41.
The Eagles attempted to sign Dixon after the '09 draft, but he looked at their defensive tackle situation, which included two first-rounders (Bunkley and Mike Patterson) and a second-rounder (Trevor Laws), and thought his roster odds were a little better in D.C.
"There were certain things that just stuck out with him," Roseman said. "A big body. A powerful guy. Also had some quickness for his size. We made up a short list at the beginning of the ['09] preseason of guys who we thought might be available [after final cuts], and Antonio was high on that list.
"It's a great credit to our pro-scouting department, as well as our coaches who quickly acclimated him into the system and got him going. To get a guy like that and have him be able to be productive as a rookie and then take another big step his second year in the league is big."
The Eagles signed Patterson late in the '08 season after he was released by the Chiefs. They thought enough of him to put him on their roster for their final two playoffs games that year.
He missed five games last year with a broken hand, but still was one of their better special-teams players, and also saw some action at cornerback in the second half of the season after Ellis Hobbs went down with a neck injury and Joselio Hanson was suspended for four games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
When Hobbs got hurt again in early November, Patterson replaced him at the right corner. With the exception of the first half against the Giants last week when he gave up three TDs, Patterson has played pretty well.
The 6-2, 200-pounder is second on the team to Samuel in interceptions and is one of the team's surest tacklers. He had two interceptions in the Eagles' Week 10 win over the Redskins, including one he returned 40 yards for a touchdown.
He had a key fourth-quarter pick 2 weeks ago against the Cowboys that set up David Akers' game-clinching field goal. And he recovered a fumble last week that set up the Eagles' first touchdown in their dramatic come-from-behind win.
"When we worked him out [in '08], we really liked him," Roseman said. "We thought he was the best player on the street [not with a team]. But we didn't really have a [roster] spot for him at the time.
"We eventually went to Andy [Reid] about him. He said if you think the guy can play and can help us going forward, sign him and we'll find a spot for him.
"When people asked me this summer who was the most improved player on the team, my answer was Dimitri. He's worked at it. He's a tough kid who really loves to play and will work at it to get better."
The Eagles signed Schmitt on Sept. 14, just a week after the Seahawks released him and 2 days after Weaver went down.
He was on his way to a tryout with the Bengals when the Eagles contacted him.
"We called him and told him about the opportunity and told him we were only bringing in a couple of guys, and that whoever looked the best in the workout had a great opportunity to be our fullback full time," Roseman said.
Since the Eagles use two-back sets only about 30 percent of the time, the 6-2, 245-pound Schmitt plays only about 18 to 20 snaps a game. He still needs a lot of work on his blocking, but has been an effective receiver.
He has been targeted 23 times and has 18 catches, nine for first downs. He had a fourth-quarter touchdown catch against Houston in Week 13 that gave the Eagles a 10-point lead with 4 minutes to go.
His 18 catches are six more than he had in his two seasons with the Seahawks.
"That's a really difficult situation when you're trying to get a starter after the first week of the season," Roseman said. "We had Owen rated highly coming out of [West Virginia] and we had good pro grades on him. We were very fortunate that he became available when he did.
"When you look at all three of these guys, they all had redeeming qualities. Dimitri was a big, physical guy with really good speed. Antonio, big body and good feet. Owen's a really good athlete who was a lead running back for a while at West Virginia.
"When you see that they have the physical tools, and they get a chance to use them with the coaching staff we have here, that's kind of what you're hoping for." *
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