Earl Wolff says he is healthy and ready to go for Training Camp, and that's a must for a third-year safety who knows that he, to borrow an old saying, "can't make the club if he's in the tub."
"I feel great, ready to go," Wolff said on Thursday night as the Eagles unveiled their "Our City, Our Team" mural in a dedication event on Darien Street alongside Lincoln Financial Field (as an aside, the mural is remarkable, impressive and a must-see for every Eagles fan when you visit South Philadelphia).
Wolff has been in the "tub," the term used for spending time in an athletic training room recovering from injury, quite a bit in his two NFL seasons. A hopeful rookie campaign was ended by a knee injury that landed Wolff on the inactive list for five of the last six games of 2013, and in 2014 Wolff played in 77 total defensive snaps, 60 of them in his lone start, November 2 in Houston.
The knee has been trouble, so much so that Wolff underwent microfracture surgery last November to make things right. Recovery has been difficult, laborious and it's kept Wolff off the field more than he'd like. His spring was slowed as he missed training sessions to get back to feeling just right. In the meantime, the Eagles added to the safety position, moving free agent Walter Thurmond from cornerback to safety and giving him -- and a handful of other players -- reps with the first-team players.
With Malcolm Jenkins established as a starter at one safety spot, the Eagles need an answer for the other starting job and they need some players to step up and provide quality depth. Is Jerome Couplin a piece to consider? For sure. How about Ed Reynolds, a draft pick in 2014? It's time for him to show up and stake his claim. Chris Maragos is a great player on special teams who knows the scheme and is ready to do what the coaches ask. Same with Chris Prosinski, who was a valuable add last season. Second-year man Jaylen Watkins takes reps both at safety and cornerback and is someone to consider as well.
And then there's Wolff, a fourth-round draft pick in 2013 who had some encouraging moments in his rookie season. He had his ups and downs before suffering a knee injury in the win at Green Bay. He has never been the same, even with the work put in to recover.
Now, you have to figure, the next five or six weeks will define his tenure with the Eagles: If Wolff gets on the field and stays here and performs well, he can move up the depth chart and earn some playing time. There is very little margin for error, especially after missing so many reps during the spring. Instead of gaining the trust of new secondary coaches Cory Undlin and Matthew Harper, Wolff spent much of his time working out on the side, getting his knee stronger.
When the whistle blows for Training Camp's first on-field session on August 2, Wolff needs to be suited up and ready to go.
Year 3 is the make-or-break point for the former North Carolina State star who wants to be healthy, who wants to be great. Perhaps it's a bit under the radar what with all of the changes within this roster, but the safety position looms as a key area to improve for a defense that last season allowed a league-high 72 passing plays of 20-plus yards. The Eagles ask their safeties to split the field and have the skill set to cover down the hash areas and provide quality coverage over the top in the passing game. They've got to cover and tackle well and be smart and take good angles and play physical football.
Wolff knows the requirements. He's shown some glimpses. The knee injury has stunted his development. The hope is that he's on the field on August 2, moving forward, challenging to make the roster and make a difference for a secondary that has undergone a massive offseason facelift.
The Eagles need another safety to step up and start next to Jenkins, and they need another two or three more to prove they can help as backups. Why not Earl Wolff? It's either his time starting on August 2, or he'll be at a major crossroads early in his NFL career.