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Fresh chance for Eagles defensive tackle Antonio Dixon

ANTONIO DIXON landed in Philadelphia at 12:55 a.m. on Wednesday, still full from a Christmas dinner with his mother, brother and sister in Miami.

The Eagles signed defensive tackle Antonio Dixon to a 2-year contract on Wednesday. (Clem Murray/Staff file photo)
The Eagles signed defensive tackle Antonio Dixon to a 2-year contract on Wednesday. (Clem Murray/Staff file photo)Read more

ANTONIO DIXON landed in Philadelphia at 12:55 a.m. on Wednesday, still full from a Christmas dinner with his mother, brother and sister in Miami.

For Dixon, a spot on the Eagles' roster and a fresh hotel bed - even if it meant arriving at 2 o'clock in the morning and having to report to the NovaCare Complex 4 hours later for a physical - were the two best Christmas gifts he has received in years.

The Eagles signed the defensive tackle to a 2-year contract on Wednesday, commencing his second go-around with the team after being one of the last cuts in training camp in August.

Dixon, 27, played two games with the Colts this season after being released by the Birds. He was cut by Indianapolis on Oct. 29 after its injury-plagued defensive line healed up. At 6-3, Dixon was tipping the scales at 333.

So he spent the next month-and-a-half living out of a spare bedroom in the back of a training facility in Homestead, Fla., while trying to shed weight under the auspice of ex-Marine Frank Gachelin - the father of Denver Broncos Pro Bowler Elvis Dumervil - and he has taken in numerous kids in the Miami area to try to give them a better life.

For Dixon, that meant a roof over his head with a chance to focus on football. And staying away from his favorite snack, Little Debbie's Oatmeal Creme Pies.

"Oatmeal pies, I can't touch 'em no more," Dixon, now down to 325, said with a smile. "I haven't touched 'em in 2 months. I'm trying to cut back on all of the snacks. I'm down to three fast-food meals per week now."

Dixon's road to the NFL has been well-documented. Growing up, he lived in at least six homeless shelters from Miami to Atlanta. He was in and out of foster care with his siblings. His mother, Corenthia Dixon, is a recovering drug addict who now works in the cafeteria of a Miami shelter. His father, Frazier Hawkins, served 17 years in prison on drug-trafficking charges.

Dixon is soft-spoken. He has dyslexia and a speech impediment, which has to be nerve-wracking when you are in front of cameras with reporters rapid-firing questions. He did not learn how to read until sixth grade.

His story is an amazing tale of perseverance. Football is just part of it.

Both his mother and father have stable jobs now. He took a Greyhound bus from Miami to New York to attend boarding school. He went on to play for his hometown University of Miami - and became the first person in his family to graduate from college in 2009.

Always smiling, Dixon was greeted with well-wishes from nearly everyone who passed his small, temporary cubby, which was jammed into the middle of the Eagles' crowded locker room. He has the best nickname on the team: "Big Dix."

Even after being cut by Indianapolis in October, where he played just 15 snaps, Dixon never thought his NFL career was over.

"I think there was maybe one minute where I thought I might have to go to the [Canadian Football League] for a year or 2," Dixon said. "But then my agent told me pretty quick to stop thinking like that. I knew I had to stay with it. A lot of guys get cut, they don't get calls back.

"I knew all my work with 'Coach Frank' wasn't for nothing."

Dixon crisscrossed the country in November and December. He worked out for New England, Tampa Bay, Detroit, New Orleans and the Giants. The Eagles, Saints and Dolphins all wanted to sign him.

Dixon had no interest in playing for the Dolphins.

"I need to be away from Miami to be successful," Dixon said. "I just don't think it can work there. I'm really happy to be back though, to play with the Eagles."

Dixon's agent had been in close contact with Eagles general manager Howie Roseman. When Mike Patterson went down with viral pneumonia, he knew there was a shot to return to Philadelphia. Rookie defensive tackle Fletcher Cox' concussion sealed the deal.

Some look at Dixon as nothing more than an emergency stop-gap for Sunday's finale against New York. Dixon views it as an opportunity to make a new first impression, under a new defensive coordinator and defensive-line coach.

The truth is that Dixon was never one of Jim Washburn's guys. He played 35 games with the Eagles from 2009-11, starting 10 of them. He made 49 tackles and netted three sacks, including 24 solo defensive stops in his final 12 games of 2010. Washburn was hired as the defensive-line coach in 2011. Dixon tore his triceps four games into that season and was placed on injured reserve.

Dixon was told he didn't fit the Eagles' wide-nine system. That he was too heavy. That he needed to be faster. Even so, he refused to bash Washburn, who was fired on Dec. 4.

"He was a pretty good coach; it just didn't work out," Dixon said. " 'Wash' is going to be 'Wash.' That's just how he coaches, how he teaches. It was a new scheme for everybody."

Now, with Tommy Brasher temporarily at the helm and employing a more traditional scheme, Dixon said he has a chance to shine. Coach Andy Reid said Dixon will "have an opportunity to step in and do a couple things" on Sunday against the Giants.

There has been so much turnover in the Eagles' locker room that Dixon didn't even know who to call to crash as a temporary roommate. When he was cut in August, he passed his lease off to wide receiver Mardy Gilyard.

"I called Gilyard up this week, and he told me that he's now with the Jets," Dixon said. "I didn't even know. That's OK. I didn't want to live there anyway; that place is clearly bad luck."

Dixon signed a 2-year deal with the Eagles, with the main perk being that he can continue to train in Philadelphia in the offseason to stay in shape. Still, with a new coaching staff on the way in and Washburn in the back of his mind, Dixon knows to be anything but comfortable.

"This is a business," Dixon said. "You can't be mad for a long time. You've just got to get over it. It's football."