Earl Wolff isn’t thinking much about his competition with Nate Allen to start opposite Malcolm Jenkins. Wolff has his sights set on broader ambitions, like being the game’s best overall safety.
“I know I can be really, really good in this league,” Wolff said Wednesday after another Eagles training camp practice at the NovaCare, one in which he tag-teamed with Jenkins on the first-team defense (see practice observations). “I know I can. My goal is to be great. If I'm not great, then I’m not satisfied with anything. I want to be the best. I feel like I’m talented enough to be the best.”
That’s quite a pat on the ol’ back from someone with six career starts, a fifth-round pick who hasn’t yet locked up a starting job in his second season by any means. But Wolff has undeniably made plays throughout the first four days of camp, and if he keeps this up, he won’t be a reserve when the season opens Sept. 7.
Wolff nearly picked off Nick Foles on a pass to James Casey across the middle on 7-on-7s, batting the pass down after blanketing Casey for most of the crossing route. Later, he proved that he can hang with receivers in receiver-defensive back drills, keeping his coverage despite a mean double move by Brad Smith to force another incompletion.
The effort came on the heels of Monday’s open practice at the Linc, where Wolff made one of the day’s standout plays when he leaped high to disrupt Mark Sanchez’s deep heave to Arrelious Benn about 40 yards downfield.
“I see a young guy that’s getting the system. I see improvement,” cornerback Cary Williams said. “I see a guy that’s being more aggressive. He’s done a great job this offseason learning the defense and applying those things we learned in the field out here. I look for big things from that kid.”
Wolff might be the best overall athlete in the secondary. It’s between him and slot corner Brandon Boykin. Unlike last year, when his game was still one-dimensional, this year Wolff’s adapting that athleticism to his expanded role.
Wolff could always knock someone’s head off. With a better understanding of the defense, and with Jenkins to lean on for advice, Wolff is starting to develop more range and an understanding of how to play the post against receivers and tight ends.
“Last year I was still second-guessing with my calls. I felt like they were trying to ease me in, that’s why I would kind of [sub] in and out at first,” he said. “But now that I know everything I’m out here flying around. Like [Wednesday], I’m not going to say I had a perfect practice. I had a really good practice.”
Jenkins has noticed Wolff’s ascent this camp, but he’s still not making any judgments in the Allen-Wolff battle until each play in the preseason.
“I’m looking forward to seeing both of them cut it loose, take more chances and see kind of where their range is at,” he said. “That’s the only way you learn as a safety, you’ve got to push yourself, take chances, see where your range is and that way you’ll see where you’re at.”
Like most rising stars, Wolff models his game after the best at his position. Asked which safety in the NFL is best, he named three: Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, both of Seahawks fame, and Chiefs safety Eric Berry.
He watches film of all three and tries to adapt their best qualities into his arsenal.
“That’s what you have to do. That’s what Kobe said he did with Jordan,” Wolff said.
He’s studied the slobber-knocking Chancellor going back to the safety’s college days at Virginia Tech. Wolff took extra delight in the 232-pound Chancellor’s vicious hit on Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas in the Super Bowl, which set the tone for Seattle’s 43-8 triumph.
“He brings that thumpety-thump,” Wolff said, proudly. “He set the tone. And basically that’s how we’re trying to be this year.”
And he’s hoping to be one of the igniters of the defense. But he’s not paying much attention right now to personnel groupings or which squad he’s running with.
Given all the mixing and matching during camp, Wolff isn’t even sure his appearance with the first defense Wednesday should be considered a promotion.
“I look at is as I’m out here for the day, maybe,” he said. “I don’t know how long it’s gonna be. I look at it as I’ve got to make every play possible, when I’m in here I’ve got to make it count.
“I just don’t look into it as anything big because honestly you never really know with the coaches. You just have to take advantage of every opportunity you get, every rep you get out here, because the trust comes from here, especially in camp right now. You have to have the coaches’ trust before they put you on the field.”