Quick personal note first. It has been a couple of years since I did any writing for BGN. For those who may not be familiar with me, I have written about the Eagles for a decade now. I've got a bi-weekly column on PhiladelphiaEagles.com. I run a couple of sites, IgglesBlitz.com and EaglesBlog.net. I also write about the NFL draft at ScoutsNotebook.com. I'm not from Philly and actually chose to be an Eagles fan so you know I've got a screw loose. I love beer, pudding and seeing the Dallas Cowboys lose. My favorite Eagle is Reggie White. My least favorite Eagle is Matt Schobel. We all want the Eagles to win the Super Bowl, but my personal obsession is seeing them get a shutout. The last one came in December 1996 and that drives me crazy. Lots of close calls since then, but they always find a way to give up that one score and crush my dreams. Such is the life of an Eagles fan.
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The Eagles have struggled to develop safeties for quite a while. Nate Allen had a very promising rookie season in 2010, but a knee injury late in the season affected him into the future and he's not been the same player since. Earl Wolff looks like the guy who may finally break that trend.
Wolff makes his share of rookie mistakes, but he has shown the traits of a good starting safety. He plays with confidence, which is crucial for the position. Safeties cannot be indecisive or hesitant. They must trust their eyes and attack the play. Wolff does that. He's very good when the ball is thrown in front of him and it is his job to come up and make the tackle.
Wolff isn't an explosive hitter, but he is a sure tackler and that is also key for safeties. When those guys get beat, it leads to big plays and/or touchdowns. Safeties are the guys responsible for cleaning up the mistakes of the cornerbacks and linebackers.
We haven't seen enough of Wolff in coverage to get a good feel for that part of his game. He broke up a pass thrown to Antonio Gates in the Chargers game, but Gates sort of dropped that ball as well. Wolff did have a couple of nice plays in coverage against the Giants. He had six interceptions in college, which is okay, but nothing special for a guy who started as much as he did. His ball skills remain a mystery at the NFL level.
The Eagles have used Wolff in the box and deep as a centerfielder. He seems more at home playing down in the box. He runs well enough to be a deep safety, but that isn't a natural role for him. This is where you can see some of his rookie moments. He struggles to read pass routes that are more vertical. He doesn't always take good angles to the ball. He doesn't anticipate well.
Again, those are mostly rookie issues. NFL receivers run good routes. They make crisp cuts and then can explode out of their breaks. Rookie safeties have never seen anything like this. It takes time to adjust to that level of speed and precision. Wolff is comfortable around the line of scrimmage. He's confident and aggressive. Put him 15 to 20 yards downfield and that's a whole other deal. He's not nearly as confident or aggressive.
Wolff should improve at this as he gains experience and adjusts to the speed of the game. He also is learning a complex NFL scheme. That is tough on a young guy. The more he has to think, the slower he'll play. As time goes on, Wolff will think less and play more naturally. That will allow him to react quicker and more importantly, to begin anticipating plays. The best safeties know what is going to happen before it actually happens. This is a combination of instincts and great tape study.
It is difficult to project how good Wolff can be at this point. He doesn't look like a future star based on what we've seen, but does look like he can be a good starter. For the Eagles, that would be good enough. Guys like Jaiquawn Jarrett, Quintin Demps, Macho Harris, Kurt Coleman, C.J. Gaddis and Sean Considine all failed to become good starters. Wolff is already ahead of those players and that is a huge step in the right direction.
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