You have to go back to 2008 to find the Eagles with a good pair of Safeties on the field. That was Brian Dawkins and Quintin Mikell. And even that wasn’t a great duo. Dawk was near the end of his great career and Mikell was never a top shelf starter.
Could this year be different?
Malcolm Jenkins will man one starting spot. Either Nate Allen or Earl Wolff will be the other starter. Today Wolff ran with the 1’s and had some good moments. Tim McManus has some details on the situation.
For much of the spring and summer, Nate Allen has occupied the starting safety spot oppositeMalcolm Jenkins. On Wednesday, though, it was Earl Wolff running with the ones.
“I saw it this morning,” said Wolff, speaking about the depth chart. “I don’t think too much of it. I just went in there, made a couple plays.”
“I thought he did well,” added Jenkins. “As far as communications he was loud, he was on point, he thought before the play. I know they’re going to be continuously rotating — even I was with the twos a couple practices ago — it’s good for him to get that exposure, those reps, and I’m watching the competition just like you guys.”
Wolff looks fully recovered from the knee injury that kept him out of action down the stretch last season. He has flashed at times early on in camp. The most notable play came at Lincoln Financial Field on Monday, where he broke on a pass intended for Arrelious Benn along the sidelines and extended himself to come up with the deflection. The second year safety out of N.C. State is still a work in progress, but seems to be coming along.
“I feel real comfortable with everything,” said Wolff. “When it comes to my press technique, when it comes to my zone drops. I feel like last year I got out-leveraged a couple times. I feel like I’ve been doing a great job of getting width and depth at the same time. Every day I watch film, I write my corrections down and then I work on them the next day, and I feel like that’s what’s really getting me better.”
Jenkins was asked for his take on the two men fighting for the spot next to him.
“Nate is a veteran. He knows what he’s doing, he’s in the right place at the right time. I think what everyone wants to see is him just cut it loose,” he said. “Last year because he was the veteran he had to get guys lined up and that kind of slowed down his progression but I think this year playing next to me where you’ve got two veterans that can make calls, you want to see him cut it loose.
“Earl is a young player that has a lot of talent. Everything he’s done thus far has been off of raw talent and his athleticism. He just has to learn the game when it comes to being loud and decisive with his calls, knowing what offenses are giving him. And that all comes with time. You have two different dynamics but they’re both great players and I know whoever ends up on that other side is going to be more than capable of getting the job done.”
Jenkins offers a good take on both players. Allen does need to “cut it loose”. The other day I talked about how he played on his heels too much. That’s the exact same thing Jenkins is saying. Attack. Go get the ball/runner/receiver. There is a big difference in being reckless and being aggressive. Allen is almost like a driver that goes too slow and doesn’t realize that’s just as dangerous as going too fast. Allen causes problems by being too conservative. The reason he plays that way is to avoid getting burned, but he ends up hurting the defense.
I hope Jenkins is right about the fact that having a veteran presence beside Allen will make a difference. Allen hasn’t exactly been paired with a who’s who of NFL DBs.
2010 – Quintin Mikell
2011 – Kurt Coleman
2012 – Kurt Coleman
2013 – Patrick Chung / Earl Wolff
I think Allen played his best football when he was a rookie in 2010. Coincidentally, that was the last year he was paired with a solid starter. Maybe Jenkins will be just what the doctor ordered.
As for Wolff, don’t sleep on him. He is naturally aggressive. He’s a better athlete than Allen. The biggest issue for him is simply inexperience. The presence of Jenkins will also help him. You wonder about how the need for the right guy at FS affected whether the Eagles would be interested in TJ Ward, Jairus Byrd or Jenkins. Neither Ward nor Byrd seems anywhere close to Jenkins as a leader and locker room presence. Both guys can definitely make plays, but sometimes you want more than that when trying to figure out who to add to the team. How will the new player affect the guys around him? Can he help them become better players?
I think Wolff has a very real shot to win the starting job. Allen has been a tentative player for a few years, including 2013. Can he suddenly shake loose of that and play more aggressively? Allen made a lot of progress last year, but still must get better if he’s ever going to feel comfortable about his place in the starting lineup.
Chip Kelly and Bill Davis played Wolff last year when he was just a rookie. They aren’t scared to take a chance on youth, as long as they feel the player can hold his own. Wolff certainly had some good moments last year and showed a lot of promise.
Wolff’s having an outstanding camp. Yeah, it’s early, but you can see the development from day to day. He knows the defense, knows his responsibilities and is making plays on instinct. He broke up a deep pass Monday at the Linc and earned a promotion to the first team Wednesday ahead of Nate Allen.
Wolff batted down a Foles pass to James Casey over the middle in 7-on-7s — should have been picked off. A few snaps later, he stayed tight in coverage after Brad Smith tried to lose him with a double move. Smith couldn’t separate and missed a good lead pass in the end zone from Foles.
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Sheil Kapadia wrote another brilliant piece, this time on the snag concept in the passing game. He got Coach Flinn to help him out with some technical stuff and the piece is absolutely must-read material.
During the early part of every Eagles practice, the robotic voice that emanates from the speakers at the NovaCare Complex announces a period called RVA, or routes versus air.
Five quarterbacks in red jerseys stand side by side in the middle of the field. Wide receivers, tight ends and running backs set up in one of five lines – three to one side, two to the other. The balls are snapped simultaneously, the receivers run their routes, and the passes are delivered without any defenders.
During one of the reps, the No. 1 receiver (closest to the sideline) takes off on a slant, but turns around at about 5 yards and faces the quarterback. The No. 2 receiver runs a corner route – upfield and then angling towards the sideline. And the No. 3 man (closest to the formation) shuffles towards the sideline near the line of scrimmage, keeping his eyes on the QB the entire time.
It’s a common passing concept called the snag – one that is utilized by teams across the league on a weekly basis.
Go read the piece and prepare to come away a smarter football fan. Great stuff.
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In the Eagles’ wheel route, the halfback usually lines up next to the quarterback in shotgun, giving a pass-protection look. After the snap, the running back heads for the sideline, giving the impression of a screen or quick flare, but suddenly rotates upfield — hence the term “wheel route” — to catch the defense off guard.
“We have a lot of guys that can do more than run the ball,” Polk said. “Especially if a [linebacker] is on us. We feel we should win that matchup anytime. We’ve gotta get open.”
Eagles linebackers have already felt the sting of Kelly’s new toy. On Sunday, the second day of camp, outside linebacker Bryan Braman drew Sproles in coverage during a scrimmage. Sproles headed toward the right flat, then suddenly burst upfield while Braman’s momentum took him toward the sideline.
A rhino had a better chance of tracking down a cheetah. Forty yards later, a perfectly thrown ball by Foles settled in Sproles’ hands while Braman ate dust. Later, a wheel route by Polk turned into a big gain when linebacker Casey Matthews tumbled into a defensive back while trying to rotate over.
“I love those routes,” Polk said. “If it were my call, I’d love to run all of them. I just love catching and running, especially when it’s man-to-man. My eyes open up, you start salivating. It’s a great feeling.”
This is nothing new. It was in Andy Reid’s playbook. Brian Westbrook had a few big plays via the wheel route. It was in the offense last year. The Eagles may just be making it a bigger part of the playbook. Smart move with guys like McCoy, Sproles and Polk in the backfield. All 3 made impressive catches to the outside last year. Sproles made plenty of them. McCoy’s best catch was the play vs Ryan Kerrigan and the Skins. That was similar to the wheel route, but more of a direct release. Polk had a couple of good grabs. The one vs Dallas is the one I remember.
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Doug Farrar of SI.com wrote a great piece on the Eagles running game and how Chip Kelly schemes to help his RB. There isn’t much new material in here, especially if you read the great stuff put out by Sheil Kapadia. Still, it is always good to read an outsider’s take on things. Farrar did get some good player quotes.
“We do have wide splits, and I think this is where Chip is a brainiac, is that he makes you cover the whole entire field,” McCoy said. “And that’s tough. You talk about the NFL, and the best of the best … well, he finds ways to spread the ball where we can throw it, run it, go deep on you, go short, screen passes. He has so many different options in the offense, and now you add in a guy like [Darren] Sproles, who’s deadly. So, imagine us in the backfield together with all those moves and formations. You don’t know what to think.”
It’s a universal concept with Kelly’s backs — Barner (former Oregon star RB) told me the same thing.
“It puts you in a position to succeed,” Barner said. “That’s what Coach Kelly does best — he puts you in a position at your best. Whatever your best is, that’s what the offense allows you to do. You can show everyone what you can do, and as a running back, you love that. It creates space, it creates lanes, and you can get going when you’re one-on-one with a defender.”
It would seem that an offense that is fairly stock when it comes to formations would be relatively easy to figure out. After all, the Wildcat, with its Steeler, Counter and Power iterations, went the way of the dinosaur when defenses picked up the reads and shut it down. And more standard quarterback option packages tend to last about as long as the quarterback does — and as Vick could tell you, that generally isn’t too long. The brilliance of Kelly’s system — and what will ensure its continued success — is that it combines razzle-dazzle and smashmouth in equal doses. And it’s designed from the start to make defenses guess wrong.
“In this offense, we keep you guessing,” McCoy said. “There are times when the defense says, ‘We’ve seen this — it’s a pass.’ Or they think it’s a run, and it’s totally the opposite. And I think that when you give a defense so many different looks that all look the same — the formations all look the same — it’s hard to really study them. It’s hard to really know. It keeps them off-balance, it really does.
“Our offense is a big-play offense. We’re not that kind of typical, boring three-yard offense; we keep the chains moving. That’s big here, because I feel that I get the most out of myself as far as quickness and explosion.”
Opposing coaches are certainly wondering what Kelly has in store for an encore, but his running backs already know.