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Chip Kelly is already tired of talking about them, and it’s only June. The media has been cautioned against reading too deeply into them. Clearly, it’s been hammered into the heads of Eagles players to avoid thinking about them.
Throughout the spring camps, reps and personnel groupings have been analyzed by reporters, downplayed by players and all but dismissed by coaches. At every position, not just quarterback.
It’s become such a tense and sensitive topic around the NovaCare Complex that on Wednesday rookie safety Earl Wolff couldn’t answer a few questions about his surprising handful of first-team snaps without stumbling and fumbling over the words.
“Actually, it wasn’t that I got reps with the ones, it was more like a constant rotation,” Wolff assured, touting the company pitch line hard enough to be seemingly lobbying for an “Employee of the Month” gift card.
“So it’s not really … it’s kind of like I’m getting reps with … uhhh, and, umm … . It’s not like I would say I was running with the ones; I’m just getting reps. Sometimes we’re running with the ones. Sometimes we’re running with the twos. Everybody is kind of having a chance right now. It’s just basically seeing what everybody can do.”
If it’s not abundantly clear by now, Wolff’s smattering of first-team reps hardly portends his rapid ascent up the depth chart and into the starting lineup by the Sept. 9 opener against the Redskins.
At the same time, it’s OK to feel at least slightly encouraged that the safety from N.C. State, who has family ties to Philly and was viewed in league circles as a potential gem for the fifth round, has made impressive progress since the day he first set foot on the NovaCare grounds.
Put it this way: With six other safeties on the roster who have NFL experience, two of whom have played in a Super Bowl, one could fairly assume that if Wolff hadn’t shown some level of competence throughout the spring camps, the coaches wouldn’t have bothered to throw him any first-team bones.
“I wasn’t getting a whole lot of reps [in the earlier camps],” Wolff said. “I remember the first day [of full-team organized team activities] I was like, ‘Dag, the veterans are back. I only got like 12 reps today.’ But now I’m getting more. I feel like Coach is trusting me more.
“Even the secondary, the players are trusting me more.”
In the first camps, Wolff said he couldn’t play at full speed or rely on instincts with the overdose of X's and O's weighing him down. This is a common hurdle for rookies in the spring camps. The seemingly simple act of lining up in the proper spot can be tedious and overwhelming.
In just a few weeks, Wolff not only is comfortable enough with his own assignments and responsibilities to play with more discipline and control but also plans to get acquainted with everyone else’s, too.
This is one of coach Kelly’s decrees, that his players understand where their teammates are supposed to be on every snap.
“Basically, I’m just working on my alignments now and I’m pretty sure I’ve got everything down,” Wolff said. “Honestly, I’m about to start really studying what everybody else does. Now, I know what I do, so I’m about to start going back and looking at what the linebacker does, where is my help at, which will allow me to make my plays.”
The Eagles seemingly addressed their safety concerns in the offseason, signing former Giant Kenny Phillips and former Patriot Patrick Chung and retaining incumbents Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson.
None of these moves can be considered a foolproof remedy for what was the weakest spot on last year’s defense. Phillips, who has bad knees, already missed a three-day camp to ease up on his knees. Chung, a second-round pick, regressed during his New England career to the point where the Pats didn’t want him back. Allen, Coleman and Anderson are holdovers from last year’s team that gave fans the worst safety play they’ve seen in this city perhaps ever.
Like most third-day drafted rookies, Wolff will probably have to elbow his way up the depth chart by first standing out on special teams, which is on his checklist. But the Kelly regime has preached the clean-slate approach and honest competition for every roster spot.
Wolff has taken that as an indication that he shouldn’t be ruled out from winning a starting job.
“Right now … I feel like I can honestly compete [to start],” he said “I’m a competitor. I’ve always been a competitor. I’m going to come and compete and give it my all, and basically let everything pan out.”