Chip Kelly's recent assessment of Earl Wolff was short and not so sweet. The following exchange took place during the head coach's press conference on Tuesday:
"Q. How is Earl Wolff's progress in coming back from micro-fracture surgery?
CHIP KELLY: Earl has done nothing except stretch. So there is no progress right now.
Q. With Wolff, is that just a pain threshold thing? Has he been cleared?
CHIP KELLY: He's been cleared from Dr. [James] Andrews a couple weeks ago, but it's about what he can tolerate."
With a statement like that, Kelly is making it clear that Wolff is the only person holding himself back.
The third-year safety has spent recent months recovering from a late November operation on his right knee. It was originally reported that Wolff may not be full speed until May, but now it's June and Wolff still isn't fully back.
To Wolff's credit, he did finally get on the field in some capacity on Tuesday. After starting practice out with the trainers like he usually does, Wolff joined the rest of Philadelphia's defensive backs in some position drills. Wolff looked a little rusty. At one point it looked like he needed some extra instruction from defensive backs coach Cory Undlin. Then Wolff dropped a pass directly thrown his way during an interception drill.
Maybe it was a coincidence, but Kelly seemed to be paying extra attention to the defensive backs on Tuesday. Here he is watching their drills (in the black on left at the 47 yard line):
After practice, Wolff seemed to contest Kelly's notion that he's been fully cleared. Via Jimmy Kempski of PhillyVoice:
"When they said 'cleared,' it wasn't like, I'm cleared to go 100 percent," said Wolff. "What Dr. Andrews said was, 'Earl, I did microfracture surgery because your knee was rubbing bone to bone. I did a microfracture surgery, and my goal was to make sure it wasn't touching bone to bone anymore.' So when I went out there, probably about a month, month and a half ago, basically he said, 'You know Earl, basically what I tried to get done is done. So now you can push yourself because basically the procedure that I tried to get done was basically fulfilled, so now you can go out there, now you can really progress. You can really push yourself now.' So it wasn't like I'm cleared to go 100 percent out there and practice 100 percent, no. It wasn't one of those clears."
Wolff has failed to impress with the Eagles after getting on the field early as a rookie in 2013. He had a chance to win the starting safety job last year in a competition with Nate Allen but he couldn't beat the veteran out. This year, it's converted cornerback Walter Thurmond who seems to be favored for the starting spot next to Malcolm Jenkins. Kelly raved about Thurmond on Tuesday:
"Walt's doing a really nice job. He’s probably been our most productive guy in the secondary in terms of pass breakups and strips and things like that. He always seems to be around the ball. So he seems like he's fitting in there right now. But, again, we still don't have pads on, we’re still evaluating guys in helmets and shorts and T-shirts. But he's been very productive so far since he's been in there."
The Eagles aren't exactly stacked at safety but Wolff's roster spot is far from guaranteed. He needs to get on the field and prove he belongs.