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Eagle Eye: Defense continues to improve
Safety Earl Wolff has played 79 percent of the Eagles' defensive snaps in the last eight games. (USA Today Images)
The team that brought you Macho Harris, Sean Jones and Jarrad Page, the team that brought you Jaiquawn Jarrett, Quintin Demps and David Sims, the team that brought you Kenny Phillips, O.J. Atogwe and Marlin Jackson may have actually gotten one right.
Meet Earl Wolff. Safety.
And quite possibly the guy who will end the Eagles’ safety jinx. The Curse of Dawk.
Wolff, forced into the starting lineup in September because of Patrick Chung’s lingering shoulder injury, has been a terrific find for the Eagles this fall.
He was only a fifth-round draft pick, but Wolff has teamed up with Nate Allen to give the Eagles surprising consistency at a position they’ve struggled at since the days of Dawk and Q.
“Earl is doing a lot better job of communication, he’s coming up and making plays, he’s constantly getting better week in and week out,” linebacker DeMeco Ryans said.
“He’s going to be a really great player in this league because he has athletic ability, he has knowledge of the game to make the calls and checks and he wants to keep getting better.
“He got an opportunity to step in when Patrick went down, and he’s made the most of it. It’s great to see him develop.”
Wolff played just eight snaps in the opener vs. Washington, but he’s been a mainstay in the secondary since, first in a rotation with Allen and Patrick Chung and then starting in place of Chung, who returned to action Sunday in Oakland after missing all but a few snaps of the Tampa game with a shoulder injury.
In all, Wolff has played 505 snaps, but over the last eight games he’s been on the field for 497 of a possible 630 snaps, or 79 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps.
He’s fourth on the team with 49 tackles to go with one interception and five knockdowns.
“I feel pretty good,” Wolff said. “I wouldn’t say I’m satisfied. No matter what I do, I won’t ever be satisfied. You’re always going to make mistakes, never going to be perfect, you’re always going to have something to work on.
“It’s just that as you’re out there more, you get more comfortable. Once you’re out there enough, then you can just go out and play football and be instinctive and you don’t have to think.
“I don’t think I’m there yet, but I feel like I’m almost at that point. I’m very comfortable right now. But I still make mistakes. Small things. Still have plenty to work on.”
As Wolff has progressed, so has the Eagles’ defense, which has now gone five straight games without allowing more than 21 points.
During the last five weeks, Andy Reid’s Chiefs are the only other NFL team that hasn’t allowed more than 21 points in any game.
“Earl’s playing really well right now,” Allen said. “Once you start playing, there’s no rookie or fifth-round pick anymore. It’s all about what you do on the field. Are you contributing? What kind of plays are you making?
“And he’s playing ball right now. Everybody in the secondary is on the same page, we’re not giving up a lot of deep balls. We just need to keep working, keep rolling.”
The Eagles, 4-5, will likely be facing Seneca Wallace and not injured Aaron Rodgers on Sunday when they meet the Packers in a 1 p.m. kickoff at Lambeau Field (see story).
Even though Chung is back at practice, defensive coordinator Billy Davis said Tuesday that Wolff will continue to play and may even continue to start.
“I think Earl is growing with a great pace,” Davis said. “I really like some of the production he has out there. He's a good athlete, a young kid that's running around, fearless. …
“I think he's learning the NFL and the offenses and at the same time growing in his own job as a safety.
“Nate has made improvements, we talk about that every week. Patrick was very steady for us before he got injured and now he's coming back from the injury.
“We'll only benefit from a rotation going on back there and who gets what amount, we kind of are going to by feel.”
As for Wolff, he knows about the Dawk jinx. He knows about all the safeties who’ve come and gone around these parts, and he knows how tough it is to win these fans over.
But with his solid coverage, sure tackling and constant effort, Wolff is in the process of doing that.
“I love the game,” Wolff said. “I feel like just the way I play the game, with a lot of passion, they’re going to like the way I play.
“I feel like the fans are behind me. And the thing with me is that I’m only going to get better. As a rookie, I feel like I'm doing a pretty good job, but I don’t look at myself as a rookie. I feel like I’ve played enough games now I look at myself as a vet.
“So that’s how I grade myself every time I look at the film. I’m hard on myself. I’m real hard on myself. Just need to keep getting better.”