Since the day Brian Dawkins hopped a flight to Denver to sign with the Broncos as a free agent on March 1, 2009, the Philadelphia Eagles have been searching for a viable candidate to replace the Hall of Fame-caliber backbone of their defense.
Nate Allen was chosen in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Kurt Coleman was selected in the seventh round the following year and along the way, the team signed Patrick Chung along with Kenny Phillips, and even the likes of Colt Anderson and David Sims made starts last season.
As the dawn of another training camp approaches for this team, head coach Chip Kelly, general manager Howie Roseman, and vice president of player personnel Tom Gamble hope to have finally found the answer to the inconsistent play of their safeties over the years in the form of fifth-round draft choice Earl Wolff.
In a defense that is in a complete and total state of flux as it begins a transition from a 4-3 front to a 3-4, everything is open under first-year defensive coordinator Bill Davis Jr. The timing seems right for a rookie to make an immediate impact on a secondary that appears to be patchwork in it’s composition.
“Everything’s open,” Wolff told Philly Mag. “Things are not going to be solidified until we put the pads on and everybody really shows what they can do.”
Wolf, 23, finished his four-year collegiate career that was highlighted by Honorable Mention All-ACC Honors in 2011 and First Team All-ACC in 2012, with 119 tackles, seven pass breakups, nine deflections two interceptions and a forced fumble his senior season.
With the door cracked open, it’s Wolff’s hope that he can kick down the door and start as a rookie. Like any savvy rookie, the Raeford, N.C. native sought advice from Phillips during the team’s optional team activities this spring.
“He said, ‘Earl, what will make you a better player is if you know your alignments,’” Wolff recalled. “He said coaches set those alignments to allow you to make better plays. For example, if you’re inside and you have force, then that’s going to be a problem. If you have force, you’re supposed to be outside. He said your alignment means a lot, and it can help you make plays, but it can also mess you up. So that’s what we’re working on now, making sure I know the alignment.”
While comparisons to a player of Dawkins’ caliber is wildly premature for any rookie, Wolff hopes that his strong initial showing this spring will translate into more reps in training camp and ultimately having the opportunity to have an immediate impact as a rookie.
“I think he’s picked it up pretty good,” Kelly said of Wolff. “He’s only been here for a short amount of time. I think he’s got a good grasp. He came from a good system. He was coached really well down at (North Carolina State) by Tom O’Brien and those guys. He had a pretty good grasp of football when he came in here. Again, he’s like the rest of those guys. We’ll see how he continues to prepare and we’ll finally get an evaluation when we put the pads on.”
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* All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise noted.