EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Going into Thursday night's preseason finale against the New York Jets, there was no position battle that attracted more intrigue than safety, with Nate Allen and Earl Wolff as the central focus. They began the game as a tandem, each hoping to show enough to earn the starting spot next to Patrick Chung come Week 1 against the Washington Redskins. Both players had solid showings, made impact plays and now just have to wait for a final decision from the coaches.
"I feel like I had a pretty good game," Allen said. "I'm not going to say whether I should be the starter or not, that's out my hands. All I can do is put what I put on tape and try to make as many plays as I can."
"I love the game of football and I show it through the way I play," Wolff said. "I feel like I made some pretty decent tackles, but I always feel like I can get better on everything."
Wolff served primarily as the single-high safety, with Allen roaming down near the line of scrimmage and dropping into coverage. For each player, certain moments in particular stood out. Despite being right on top of the receiver, Jets wide receiver Zach Rogers, on a third-and-19 in the first quarter, Allen just missed getting his hand on the ball, instead giving up the completion and run-after -catch for the first down.
"I went to swat for the ball," Allen said. "I just put my hand out and missed it, missed the knocked down. I should've secured the tackle (afterwards). Things like that will happen."
On the next drive, Allen redeemed himself by making a really nice pass breakup on a deep throw from Jets quarterback Matt Simms to wide receiver Michael Campbell on second down.
"I was one of the underneath droppers and I just saw the guy coming from across the field," Allen said. "I was getting in my drop and deep enough, there was nothing in front of me. He ran into my zone and I made a play on it."
The rookie Wolff showed a lot of the same qualities against the Jets that he did in college, namely the ability to diagnose plays as they are developing, run to the spot and make a technically-sound, wrap-up tackle to stop the receiver short of the first-down marker. He did this on multiple occasions throughout the game, but it was the play he made on the first snap of the second quarter that was most impressive.
It was third-and-7 for the Jets, who were backed up at their own 12-yard line, and Wolff was playing 15 yards off the line of scrimmage. Jets wide receiver Ben Obomanu ran a drag across the middle of the field, which had been vacated by Eagles defenders, with plenty of space in front of him to pick up the first down. Wolff recognized Obomanu was wide open and made a beeline for him before Simms started his release. By the time Simms threw the ball and Obomanu made the catch, Wolff had closed in an instant and was there to make the tackle 4 yards shy of the first-down marker. If not for Wolff's alert awareness and sure tackling, Obomanu would have converted the first down easily. Instead, the Jets had to punt, and the Eagles got great field position to start their next drive.
"Tackling is my thing," Wolff said with a smile when the play was referenced in his post-game interview. "When I'm on the field, my goal is to be by the ball every single play, and I feel like I did that today."
Even though he made a number of really good solo tackles, Wolff still feels like he needs to work on his overall consistency and making the right pre-snap calls.
"I need to be ready for motion," Wolff said. "Any time we get a motion, we have different checks. I would say about one or two times I messed up on that. My thing is to get better every game and stay consistent."
Allen and Wolff each got better with every game and have stated their respective cases to win the second starting safety position. Soon everyone will know the result of the competition. Regardless of who wins, however, both players figure to see plenty of time in the base defense and will have chances to contribute to the Eagles' success in the regular season.
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