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Practice Report: Wolff's Year 2 Expectations

Posted Jun 10, 2014

In a shocking twist to what has been a dizzying session of spring practices, the Eagles defense featured a brand-new starting safety Tuesday when Earl Wolff jumped into the lineup alongside Malcolm Jenkins, replacing Nate Allen, who had held the spot throughout OTAs thus far.

Calm down.

As head coach Chip Kelly explained, the day-to-day vagaries of the practice depth chart are to be taken with a mountain of salt.

"We're just getting reps," Kelly explained. "Our ones, twos and threes take the same amount of reps ... If anyone is trying to make something out of how many reps, all we're trying to do is see if we can get three reps a minute, as fast as we can go, get it on tape and coach off of that. There is nothing to read into who's what or where or whatever, because we're not playing a game until September. We're just trying to get as many plays as we can possibly get, so I really wouldn't read anything into who's where or who's with what."

As for Wolff's place alongside Jenkins with the first-team defense Tuesday afternoon, the second-year player explained that Allen had been feeling ill all week, and after Allen toughed it out Monday, the coaches told Wolff to work with the nominal starters for the day.

"It went well," Wolff said after practice. "It's a different rhythm when you're running with a different group. I guess Nate started feeling badly when he was warming up today and coach told me to go with the first team and I feel like I kind of got in a good rhythm with those guys. "

Wolff elaborated on the difference between working with the starters and working with the second-team defense, where he's asked to help lead the charge.  

"For example, (Chris Maragos) is a new guy, so sometimes he doesn't see the signal or he doesn't see the signal fast, so I'm kind of talking to him," Wolff said. "But those guys (the first-team defense), they know exactly what's going on, they line down fast with the 1s. Everybody knows what's going on. Communication is a little different when you're running with the 1s and 2s, but I feel like especially after the first four reps I kind of got into a rhythm with those guys."

While Wolff has been a helpful sounding board for newcomers like Maragos and more inexperienced players, Wolff too has sought his own advice.

"I feel like it's like a tree, like the young guys might ask me something and then if I have a question I'll ask Malcolm or I'll ask Nate or sometimes I even ask coach," Wolff said. "It all depends on who's around me, but I feel like everybody that I'm asking a question of has pretty good knowledge of the defense."

Entering his second season, Wolff has high expectations for himself. But he also knows he's not the only one.

Being in my second year "allows you to play faster every play," he said. "I also think the coaches have more expectations of you because you know what's going on, so they don't expect you to mess up as much as you did last year. That's why my goal is every day to come out here and be perfect. Today wasn't perfect, but my thing is basically not to make the same mistake as I did yesterday."

Making An Impression

Meanwhile, rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews continued to stand out in practice Tuesday, consistently finding holes in the defense and finishing plays. Matthews has started so quickly that his teammates have begun to notice.

"I don't know if I've been around a rookie who can work like that," said quarterback Mark Sanchez, who has been in the NFL since 2009. "He caught four balls in a row in that 7-on period. Coach is yelling at him to finish the last play and he sprints down to the goal line in about 60 yards. I know he was gassed, but he's one of those guys who doesn't say much. He comes in, works hard, asks a ton of questions and always wants to throw after practice.

"Jordan makes it easy because he likes to work. He never complains. He's always going 100 miles per hour. You almost have to tell him to slow down. He's really focused. He's got it all. He's got all the talent. He's got real strong hands and he wants it. He wants it bad. Coach Bick (Bicknell) is on him about running the right routes, knowing the system, but he's picked it up quick. He could be real good for us. We'll see."

Matthews has been equally impressive to those who have been charged with covering him.

"Yeah, he's a good receiver, sneaky speed," said Wolff. "You would think because of how he runs he's a long guy, but he's pretty fast, pretty explosive and catches basically everything you throw at him."

Lining It Up

While all eyes in the spring remain on the quarterbacks or outside players like Matthews, the offensive and defensive linemen have been hard at work too. But as Kelly explained, the relative gains to be had for linemen in the spring are unlikely to come to the forefront so quickly.

"I think it's difficult (to evaluate both the offense and defense during spring), especially for the lines," Kelly said. "You look at some of the young guys, ‘Is he a good drive-blocker?' Well we can't drive-block each other. The biggest cooperation has to go on between the offensive and defensive lines and our guys understand that. I think more importantly we tell that as a coaching staff, we understand that. There are a lot of times out there where I'll tell them, ‘I know you would have made the play.'"

To hear it from the players, though, these practices are still essential building blocks for the season to come.

"Just work on the fundamentals, the technique, basically," defensive lineman Cedric Thornton said on his unit's main focus. "For us, it's all about strike and seeing the second key and then just going … We're working with our hands and with our feet, make sure our strike is on point.

"It's just like in baseball. They do batting practice so we do strike drills. Any time you can get better in your technique or in your fundamentals, you're definitely getting better."

Offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde also staunchly defended the importance of OTAs and minicamp for his position group.

"I think this is actually more crucial than any other time in terms of your technique and your fundamentals," he said. "Everything starts from somewhere. We've all got a basis and especially for the offensive line, your base work is your hand placement and your footwork. When that's your basis, this is the perfect time to work on all of that. We can place our hands exactly where they need to be. We can take exactly the right steps all without really – when the intensity starts to ramp up sometimes you have a tendency to get a little sloppy in those details. So sometimes this is the perfect time to really get better at those fundamentals."

Play Of The Day

Nick Foles made the throw of the day during a 7-on-7 period when he rolled to his right and unfurled a bomb down the right sideline that hit Jeremy Maclin in stride more than 40 yards down the field. Maclin hauled in the catch with Cary Williams in coverage.

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