First, the Eagles signed Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Maragos in free agency. Then they brought back Nate Allen. On Saturday, they drafted Florida defensive back Jaylen Watkins and Stanford safety Ed Reynolds.
For a moment, it seemed as if Chip Kelly had planned around Earl Wolff, an impressive rookie safety last year whose season was derailed by a late knee injury.
Kelly hasn’t forgotten about Wolff and he surely isn’t down on the second-year pro. On the contrary, he added.
“But I think the statement -- and more than one person has made [it] to me -- it looks like we have the old Earl, because he's flying around right now,” Kelly said.
“Sometimes the injury is a little more severe than was expected. We didn't think it was going to be as long as it was, and I'll give him a ton of credit, because he worked his tail off to try to get back out there. But it just didn't respond the way we had hoped it would respond. But the guy that's been here since April 21, Earl's been flying around.”
Wolff, picked in the fifth round last year out of N.C. State, impressed the coaches from Day 1 last year. He was the only defensive rookie to get some first-teams reps at the minicamps that were open to the media.
By the end of training camp, he was battling with Allen to start opposite Patrick Chung. Midway through the season, he had supplanted an injured Chung as the starter and along with Allen brought some respectability back to the Eagles’ safety tandem.
Wolff was starting to play consistently until a knee injury he suffered against Green Bay on Nov. 10 forced him out of four straight games. He returned, reluctantly, against the Bears on Dec. 22 but re-injured the knee quickly and then missed the season finale against Dallas.
Wolff was active for the playoff game against New Orleans but never played in the game, prompting questions about whether the coaches wanted him to play against his wishes.
But if there were concerns that Wolff’s injury caused a rift between him and the coaches, especially after the Eagles stockpiled safeties this offseason, Kelly dismissed them.
“There was a difference between him being able to run full speed,” Kelly said. “Because when Earl runs full speed and jumps full speed, you can tell. He was definitely injured. So there was no question from us at all.”
Kelly expects another step in Wolff’s development and maturation going into this season. Wolff will battle with Allen and perhaps Watkins to start opposite Jenkins.
“You know, he’s like a lot of the guys -- it's that jump from being a rookie to a second year player is a big deal,” Kelly said. “You know, there is a renewed sense of confidence, whether it's Earl or [Zach] Ertz or Bennie [Logan] or Matt [Barkley].
“The guys we brought in last year. Now all of a sudden they're not looking around trying to figure out where to go. They're jumping right to the front of the lines and doing things. But right now we're really excited about Earl.”