Bull's-eyes on rookies Johnson, Wolff

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
4:00
PM ET
PHILADELPHIA -- The sign posted near the players' exit was unintentionally funny. Read one way, it was a simple reminder of a seminar scheduled for Friday: “Mandatory Rookie Success,” it read.

Read another way: Ah, if only it were that easy.

The Philadelphia Eagles have six rookies dressing for games (most weeks), but this is really only about two of them. That's because, frankly, not all positions are created equal when it comes to learning on the job in the NFL.

Defenses will cover rookie tight end Zach Ertz because he's on the field and he's eligible to catch the ball. Offenses will block nose tackle Bennie Logan when he's in because he's lined up over the center. Linebacker Jake Knott and cornerback Jordan Poyer are playing mostly on special teams.

But being a rookie means being a target for right tackle Lane Johnson and safety Earl Wolff. That's because of who they are and who they are not.

If you're a defensive coordinator, you can line up your best outside pass-rusher across from Pro Bowler Jason Peters, the left tackle, or across from Johnson, who has played four NFL games. It isn't a tough choice.

“They do flip (defensive ends and linebackers),” Johnson said. “It's just kind of the process for rookies. It's like if a quarterback sees a rookie cornerback. He might attack him.”

Same for a rookie safety like Wolff. Quarterbacks can go after veteran cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher or freeze Wolff with their eyes and then throw where he's supposed to be. Wolff made his first start against Peyton Manning and could make his second Sunday against Eli Manning. Even if veteran Patrick Chung (questionable, shoulder) plays, Wolff will see considerable action.

“I feel like I'll be more prepared and more ready, just knowing what happened last week,” Wolff said. “Everything I did wrong -- small things like getting leveraged on a couple plays, not being deep enough in coverage -- I've been working on all that this week.”

Wolff was supposed to be deeper on Peyton Manning's 52-yard pass to Eric Decker on Sunday. Considering deep threats Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, that is an important area to shore up against the Giants.

“I see improvement in Earl,” coach Chip Kelly said. “But you're not, in the short amount of time since he's been here, able to put him through every single route combination, sets, recognition, all those things that a guy who has been in the league for two or three years can recognize.”

Likewise, Johnson said he has gotten better at studying film of the players he's likely to face. But there's still dealing with that player's quickness and strength in the flesh, and then there's the twists and stunts defenses do to confuse young blockers.

“I think Lane knows exactly what to do,” Kelly said, “but at times, the game has to happen just a little bit quicker for him.”

Every rookie has to go through that process. It's just that, at certain positions, opponents will apply extra pressure on rookies until they prove they can deal with it.

“You have no choice,” Johnson said. “You just have to go through it.”

Phil Sheridan

ESPN Philadelphia Eagles reporter

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