NFC East: earl wolff

PHILADELPHIA -- It is easy to read too much into what you see during organized team activities. On Tuesday, safety Earl Wolff was running with the first team. It turns out that Nate Allen was sick, and Wolff simply moved up a spot.

On Monday, inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks was calling out the defensive signals. That could mean the Eagles want Kendricks to replace DeMeco Ryans in that role, or it could simply mean Kendricks might have to fill in if Ryans gets hurt during a game.

In general, the Eagles' draft picks are running with the second or third teams. That is just coach Chip Kelly's way. It is not necessarily a reflection of where each rookie stands in the coaches' evaluation process.

[+] EnlargeEagles coach Chip Kelly
AP Photo/Matt Rourke"There's nothing to read into who is where, what, whatever, because we're not playing a game until September," Chip Kelly said.
"If anybody is trying to make anything of who is playing what or how many reps -- all we are 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," Kelly said Tuesday. "So there's nothing to read into who is where, what, whatever, because we're not playing a game until September. We are just trying to get as many plays as we can possibly get. So I would not read anything into who is where or what."

First-round pick Marcus Smith is working at the left outside linebacker spot. That is Connor Barwin's spot. That doesn't mean Smith is being groomed to replace Barwin. It just means that Brandon Graham is the No. 2 guy on the right side, behind Trent Cole. In time, Smith will learn both spots. For now, six weeks before the start of training camp, the idea is to see how Smith reacts to different situations and coach him as needed.

"It's trying to figure out what those guys can do and what their skill set is and what their strengths and weaknesses are," Kelly said. "And then we'll go from there. But you got to start them somewhere. You can't say, ‘Hey, learn every single position.' Just want to put them at one spot and figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are as we evaluate them."

The big difference between last year and this year is that Nick Foles is the clear No. 1 quarterback. Michael Vick is gone. Mark Sanchez is here, but he has been told he's competing with Matt Barkley for the No. 2 spot.

Kelly said it's a "unique situation for Mark because he's probably ahead of where Nick [Foles] and Michael [Vick] were last year because he has Nick to rely on. So everything was new for everybody in the quarterback room last year. ... And he also has probably a lot more experience than a lot of guys. He's played in this league for a long time and has got 60 plus starts."

Sanchez doesn't have quite the standing that Vick had, maybe because none of those 62 starts were for the Eagles. But his experience must give Kelly some comfort going into a season in which Foles will be under more pressure than he's experienced before.

Sanchez said he is still on a "pitch count" -- a limit to how much work his right shoulder can do. But he has established himself as a good teammate, eager to help Foles develop even as he learns from him.

"Having a year under his belt really helps," Sanchez said. "He's really maturing into what I think is a really good quarterback. He's going to be tough to play against for defenses."

That won't really start, as Kelly said, until September. For now, the Eagles' focus is on learning and evaluation. It is, after all, only June.
PHILADELPHIA -- You learn more about what an NFL team thinks from what it does than from what it says.

The Philadelphia Eagles know they need to improve their defense if they’re going to repeat as NFC East champions and make more noise in the postseason. The Eagles allowed more passing yards per game than any team in the NFL in 2013. That is an obvious area to address.

“I think we can be better than 32 [ranked],” cornerback Cary Williams said. “I think we’re going to be much improved from last season.”

[+] EnlargePhiladelphia's Cary Williams
AP Photo/Michael PerezCary Williams and the Eagles won the NFC East in 2013 despite allowing the most passing yards per game in the NFL.
The Eagles drafted outside linebacker Marcus Smith of Louisville in the first round of last month’s draft. But there’s a real chance Smith won’t start ahead of Trent Cole right away. Indeed, the only definite new starter will be former Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins. During OTA practices the past two weeks, 10 of the 11 starters from the end of last year were still at the top of the depth chart.

And that’s how you know what coach Chip Kelly, GM Howie Roseman and defensive coordinator Bill Davis really think. If they believed the defense was simply devoid of talent, they would have done more in free agency to add some. Instead, they appear convinced that it’s more important for the current players to grow within Davis’ 3-4 defensive scheme than to shuffle personnel.

“Overall, the whole defense has grown because we’re more comfortable with what we’re doing,” inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans said.

Last year, Ryans was adjusting to the 3-4 after playing middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. He wound up playing more snaps than any inside linebacker in the NFL in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s because Ryans stayed healthy, but also because Davis desperately needed his awareness and knowledge on the field on every down.

Ryans will likely carry just as heavy a burden in 2014. But the addition of Jenkins will help ease the strain a bit. Jenkins replaces Patrick Chung, who was hampered by injury last year, and rookie Earl Wolff, who replaced Chung as a starter.

“Malcolm is going to be the leader in the back end,” Ryans said. “He’s a guy who gets the guys in the right position. He can make the plays you want to make. He’s a great addition to our secondary.”

That should help the entire secondary play as a cohesive unit. So should some more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Eagles began to identify and develop strong players in their front seven last season. That process should continue and bear fruit in 2014.

Defensive end Cedric Thornton will begin this season as a starter rather than as a curiosity. Bennie Logan will be the nose tackle. Cole will be in his second season as a linebacker after spending 2013 making the transition from defensive end. Ryans, Cole, Connor Barwin and Mychal Kendricks should all be better after playing together for a full season.

Best of all, the defense experienced some success in that first year. The Eagles finished strong, earning the division title with a victory in Dallas in Week 17. Their first-round playoff loss to New Orleans showed them exactly where they need to get better.

“We understand what is expected from us,” Williams said. “We’re going to continue to build off what we did last year. I think we’re on the right path.”

Kelly, Roseman and Davis think the same thing. Their actions this offseason say so.

Kelly excited about Wolff in second year

May, 13, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- While Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly was focusing on the players selected in the 2014 draft, he also took some time to reflect on one of his players taken in last year’s draft.

Wolff
Since the Eagles gathered on April 21 for workouts, safety Earl Wolff has caught Kelly’s attention.

Wolff, a safety who was picked in the fifth round last year from NC State, flourished at times last season before suffering a knee injury Nov. 10 at Green Bay.

“How did I feel about it?,” Kelly said of Wolff’s knee injury. “I was sad because Earl was coming, you know. But I think the statement and more than one person has made to me, it looks like we have the old Earl because he's flying around right now. So I don't know if sometimes the injury is a little more severe than was expected. We didn't think it was going to be as long as it was, and I'll give him a ton of credit, because he worked his tail off to try to get back out there. But it just didn't respond the way we had hoped it would respond. But the guy that's been here since April 21, Earl's been flying around.

“You know, he like a lot of the guys, it's that jump from being a rookie to a second year player is a big deal,” Kelly continued. “You know, there is a renewed sense of confidence, whether it's Earl or (Zach) Ertz or Bennie (Logan) or Matt (Barkley). The guys we brought in last year. Now all of a sudden they're not looking around trying to figure out where to go. They're jumping right to the front of the lines and doing things. But right now we're really excited about Earl.”

Wolff came back to face the Chicago Bears on Dec. 22 but hurt his knee again and remained out in the regular-season finale against the Dallas Cowboys.

Kelly was asked whether there was a question if Wolff could play through the injury.

“No, not at all,” Kelly said. “We legitimately just watch him work out. There was a difference between him being able to run full speed. Because when Earl runs full speed and jumps full speed, you can tell. He was definitely injured. So there was no question from us at all.”

Wolff will have plenty of competition this season with the additions of Florida cornerback-safety Jaylen Watkins and Stanford safety Ed Reynolds in the draft to go along with free agents Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Maragos.

Roseman doesn't like 2014 safety class

May, 2, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles signed free agent safety Malcolm Jenkins in March.

Good thing.

Because Eagles general manager Howie Roseman is not enamored with the safeties in the NFL draft looming May 8-10.

"When you talk about the safety class, I don't think it's a good group overall," Roseman said. "I think that you're talking about a drop-off, certainly, when you get into Saturday."

In addition, the Eagles also have returning safeties Earl Wolff and Nate Allen. Wolff was a fifth-round pick a year ago and showed potential before suffering a knee injury in November at Green Bay. Allen recently signed a one-year deal to return to the Eagles.

"Earl and Nate, we're excited about their ability to take a jump," Roseman said. "When we talk about athletic tools and what's in their body, Nate is 6-2, 215, and he's finally in the same system for a second year. You've got to be able to play fast. You've got to be able to not think. It's very hard on a safety going through all those system changes, especially a young player who, he was a quarterback in high school, didn't grow up playing the position.

"And then Earl as a rookie, I thought did a really good job before he got hurt. You talk about a guy who's 215 pounds and runs a 4.4 (40-yard dash). Unbelievable work ethic. Off the charts. We're excited about those guys. That doesn't mean we wouldn't add if it's the best player, but at the same time we expect those guys to take a jump."

Eagles' Wolff eager to learn from Jenkins

April, 28, 2014
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As a rookie, Earl Wolff learned a lot from his teammates with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Wolff
He's already learning from one of his newest teammates.

Since the Eagles gathered last week for informal workouts, Wolff has been modeling himself after free agent safety Malcolm Jenkins.

Jenkins signed with the Eagles in the offseason after a successful stint with the New Orleans Saints.

"I didn't know a lot about him, but I knew of him," Wolff told CSNPhilly.com. "It's a great move by the organization. I can learn a lot from him. Actually I kind of sat behind him in the meeting today. He was taking notes, so I was kinda looking at how he was taking notes, and honestly I think I'm going to start sitting beside him. I know he wouldn't mind helping me out. It's great having a veteran player, a team leader. He knows the game like the back of his hand."

Wolff was the 136th overall pick by the Eagles and played quite well as a rookie until he suffered a knee injury Nov. 10 at Green Bay. It caused him to sit out six of the final seven games.

"To get better, to be a whole lot better, to be more comfortable back there," Wolff told CSNPhilly.com of how he plans on improving in 2014. "I'm a hard worker and I have big expectations for myself."

Nate Allen not looking for handouts

March, 18, 2014
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From the time he arrived, Nate Allen felt the pressure. He's no longer the answer for the Eagles' safety position, but he still hopes to be part of the solution. The Eagles might not be counting on it, but they clearly haven't given up on him either, having re-signed him to a one-year deal.

Ponder
Allen
Allen started every game last season, but he could be challenged this year by second-year Earl Wolff. Or, perhaps, the Eagles could draft a safety though they don't have to do so now. But Allen is used to the pressure, having felt it when he arrived in 2010.

Meanwhile, the Eagles hope that this offseason they've finally started to solve a position that has vexed them ever since Brian Dawkins departed in 2009.

"That pressure, that was there, right when I came in. Everybody was saying, 'You've got big shoes to fill,' [meaning] Brian Dawkins. But like I've said from Day 1, I'm not B-Dawk. He's a future Hall of Famer," Allen told Philadelphia reporters during a break from working out at NovaCare. "I'm going to be Nate and play my game and not put any more added pressure on myself, and just go out and play football."

Allen said he wasn't worried about the free-agent process and compared it to draft day. He said he had expressed his feelings about wanting to return and then he let the market develop. There wasn't a strong demand for him elsewhere, so he opted for the one-year deal with the Eagles, for whom he has started 54 of 59 games he's played since joining the team.

"I'm just going to try to get better this year and improve, whatever I can do to help the team win,” Allen said. “I wouldn't want anything just handed to me. I'm a pretty simple dude, so any amount of money I get is good for me. A lot of times, it's not even about money. I'm just happy to be back here, in a system I'm comfortable in. I've been in Philly for four years. It's all a blessing.

“I just kind of stepped back and let everything fall into place. Knew that at the end of the day, if it was meant for me to be here, I'd be back."

Eagles building nest at safety

March, 17, 2014
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Is it safe to say the Philadelphia Eagles will not be targeting a safety early in the May draft?

Nate Allen re-signed with the team on Monday with a one-year, $2 million deal that can max out at $3 million. Last week, the Eagles signed Malcolm Jenkins to a three-year, $15.5 million deal that pays him $8.5 million guaranteed, and Chris Maragos to a three-year, $4 million deal.

The Eagles now have Allen, Jenkins, Maragos, Earl Wolff and Keelan Johnson at safety.

Philadelphia has struggled to replace Brian Dawkins the way the Dallas Cowboys have struggled to replace Darren Woodson.

Sean Jones, Kurt Coleman and Patrick Chung had nothing more than moments. Allen has been better the past few years as a strong safety.

The Cowboys have been searching for Woodson's replacement since 2004 when a bad back forced him to retire early. Dawkins left the Eagles after the 2008 season and is one of the franchise's all-time greats.

With Jenkins, the Eagles finally hope they have something close to Dawkins to keep the back line in place. Keeping Allen allows them to have some continuity with a player who looked like he found a home in 2013. Allen had a career-high 94 tackles in starting every game in his career to go along with one interception.

Reassessing Eagles LB DeMeco Ryans

February, 19, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- You can trust your eyes or you can trust your eyes.

Trust them when Philadelphia Eagles inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans is on the field and you see a veteran who was playing, according to his defensive coordinator, at a Pro Bowl level late in the 2013 season.

Or trust them when you see the orange box in the Pro Football Focus graphic and the image of Ryans in the NFL.com photo display of veterans likely to be released by their teams for salary reasons.

[+] EnlargeDeMeco Ryans
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliInside linebacker DeMeco Ryans had 4 sacks and 2 interceptions in his second season with the Eagles.
Reading through last week’s positional analysis of the Eagles’ inside linebackers, I certainly didn’t portray Ryans as a huge issue. Bearing in mind that the Eagles moved from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense, and that Ryans was in charge of getting everyone lined up correctly and maintaining order, the 29-year-old had a solid season. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis backed that up.

"DeMeco is the leader of our defense, and he's having an outstanding Pro Bowl year,” Davis said in November. “We couldn't be happier with everything DeMeco is doing for us."

In its look at the Eagles’ projected 2014 lineup, PFF classified Ryans as a “below-average starter/adequate role player” -- one of four orange boxes on the site’s graphic representation of the Eagles' defense. Cornerback Cary Williams and safeties Patrick Chung and Earl Wolff were the others (free agents, including Nate Allen, were not included).

NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal included Ryans on his list of veteran players whose 2014 salaries make them candidates to be released.

“His reputation and salary far exceed his play on the field (especially on passing downs),” Rosenthal writes. “Do the Eagles want to pay $6.9 million for leadership?”

Two quick reactions: Ryans provided more than leadership, especially as the defensive line improved in front of the linebackers. Logic suggests he can be even more effective as the rest of the defensive players improve within Davis’ scheme.

But Rosenthal and the guys at PFF aren’t making this stuff up. They know their stuff and viewed Ryans’ play with dispassionate eyes. So it might make more sense that the Eagles spent a fair amount of time talking to inside linebackers during Senior Bowl week. Jimmy Kempski of philly.com noted Eagles personnel talking to LSU’s Lamin Barrow, Wisconsin’s Chris Borland, Illinois’ Jonathan Brown, and Florida State’s Christian Jones.

Ultimately, I think Ryans is still starting for the Eagles in September even if the Eagles draft his long-term replacement. Davis is not going to want his defense to take a step back while a rookie learns the system and how to diagnose offensive formations. Free agency doesn’t seem like a viable option -- if the Eagles are going to pay top dollar for a veteran, they’re better off with Ryans.
PHILADELPHIA -- The secondary was already the Philadelphia Eagles' most obvious need area. After watching the NFL postseason, especially the Super Bowl, that need looked even more glaring.

Put another way: The Eagles got by with their secondary in 2013. Elite defenses do better than get by. Their safeties and cornerbacks are impact players.

Let’s look at the more dire safety situation first. We’ll address the cornerback position in a separate post.

Good safeties have been as elusive as unicorns for the Eagles since Brian Dawkins' unfortunate departure five years ago. (Say that out loud: Dawk's been gone for five years.) They have tried nearly everything to fill that void: second-round draft picks, second-day draft picks, midlevel free agents.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Ward
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesIt might be time for the Eagles to pursue a starting safety in free agency, like Cleveland's T.J. Ward.
As it happens, three of the safeties on the Eagles’ roster are to become unrestricted free agents next month: starter Nate Allen, former starter Kurt Coleman, and special-teamer Colt Anderson.

That should be viewed as an opportunity more than a problem. By doing nothing, the Eagles can start the process of turning over this part of their roster. They can really turn the page if they release Patrick Chung, who lost his starting job twice during the season.

That would leave Earl Wolff, last year’s fifth-round draft pick and the guy who took Chung’s job before getting hurt, and Keelan Johnson as the only two safeties on the roster.

When we said the Eagles have tried nearly everything, it’s because the one thing they haven’t done is sign a top-level free agent. For years, the Eagles rated the safety position fairly low on their list of priorities. Dawkins was a homegrown superstar who transcended the position, but their emphasis was always on edge pass-rushers and cornerbacks.

General manager Howie Roseman has said the team will avoid splurging on big-ticket signings, and that is a reasonable position. But one reason the team has struggled to resolve the safety problem is its insistence on mediocre, small-ticket free agents. Chung and Kenny Phillips were last year’s additions to a list that includes Sean Jones, Jarrad Page, Marlin Jackson and O.J. Atogwe.

Maybe Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd or Cleveland’s T.J. Ward will demand too much money to be options, but this might be the year the Eagles have to pay full-market price at this most challenging of positions. Miami’s Chris Clemons might be a better value signing.

You could make a case for retaining Allen, who had his best season. Maybe spending more time in Bill Davis’ defense will help Allen continue to grow. But the feeling here is that Allen personifies the concept of just getting by at the safety spot. The Eagles are not going to be a tough, hard-hitting, intimidating defense like Seattle or San Francisco by just getting by.

Sign one starter (Ward, preferably) and at least one veteran who can compete for playing time. Hope Wolff can lock down one starting position with a full offseason and some experience under his belt. Give Johnson a chance to earn a roster spot with special-teams play.

The timing is treacherous. If the Eagles allow Allen, Coleman and Anderson to walk, they will have to move quickly in free agency to fill at least a couple of those spots. They can hang on to Chung as security until they do. But the worst-case scenario is going into the draft in May with a desperate need for safety help.

The Eagles have done that before, and it has not ended well. But then, nothing they’ve done at safety has gone much better.
PHILADELPHIA -- It is as inevitable as the sun rising. In the days after the Super Bowl, there are thousands of words written about how the other 31 teams in the NFL can emulate the success of the new champions.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesChip Kelly has shown that his way can work in Philadelphia.
So how should the Philadelphia Eagles copy the Seattle Seahawks' recipe for success?

Answer: They shouldn't. The Eagles should do exactly what they're doing: Let Chip Kelly build his team his way.

There is no sure-fire formula for winning a championship. There is no one right way to do it. For proof, look no further than the teams that have won the Super Bowl in recent years.

Surely, the Green Bay Packers had the Green Bay Packers' secret formula after winning the Super Bowl three years ago. The Giants had it all figured out two years ago and, last year, the Baltimore Ravens were the model for everyone else.

None of these teams returned to the Super Bowl, of course. More to the point, the Packers didn't win by suddenly emulating the 2009 New Orleans Saints, the Giants didn't copy the Packers, the Ravens didn't copy the Giants and Pete Carroll most certainly didn't copy John Harbaugh's Ravens.

If there is a lesson to be learned from the Seahawks' rout of the Broncos, it is to follow your own blueprint.

Much has been made of Seattle's success finding talent, especially on defense, in the later rounds of the draft. And yes, that certainly can't hurt. But it's not as if Eagles general manager Howie Roseman hasn't thought of doing that. If the Eagles are in the Super Bowl in a year or two or three, maybe one of the big stories will be how they found Pro Bowl safety Earl Wolff in the fifth round of the 2013 draft. Who knows?

One of the underrated keys to success in the draft is coaching. It may be that all of those late-round Seattle picks would have become stars anywhere they wound up. But it is certain they have benefited greatly from a sound scheme, continuity and coaches who maximize their strengths and cover up their weaknesses.

That is one of Kelly's key attributes. He coaches the players he has, not the players he wishes he had. And he demands that from his staff. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis demonstrated that he can build a sound foundation and then adjust his scheme as his players learned it and, just as important, as he learned his players.

The progress made in less than a calendar year was promising. When you add players who better fit what Kelly and Davis want to do, that progress should accelerate each year. That is how you get from 4-12 to the Super Bowl.

The Seahawks certainly look like a team that will be a factor for the next few years. They are young, they have a quarterback that is just coming into his own and their defense is capable of taking over games.

Most of that applied to the Packers three years ago and the Ravens last year. They were the teams with the secret formula for winning. And you know what? The Seattle Seahawks didn't try to copy their formulas. They wrote their own, and that's what the Eagles are trying to do.
PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Eagles running back Chris Polk had surgery on his shoulder this week, according to a report from ESPN’s Adam Caplan.

That is worth noting, but bears further exploring because of what it says about the way the Eagles handle injuries in the Chip Kelly era.

Andy Reid famously began every press availability with the same word -- injuries -- followed by an alphabetical recitation of every nick, ding, tear, pull and break on the athletic trainers’ report. For serious injuries, especially when star players were involved, Reid brought head trainer Rick Burkholder in to explain the nature of the injury and the course of treatment.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsInformation about injured players has been hard to come by since Chip Kelly became head coach in Philadelphia.
With Kelly?

“Polk has got a shoulder,” he said Oct. 14, the day after Polk was injured in Tampa. “We hope he’s back this week, but I don’t think he’ll be full [go in practice] tomorrow.”

That was all the information Kelly was giving out, which was typical. An injured player has a (fill in body part here). Period. Kelly says he doesn’t want or need in-depth information. The training staff tells him who is available and who isn’t and he proceeds from there.

Polk was inactive for the following week's game against Dallas. Not that big of a deal, except for the roster consequences that followed. The day before the Dallas game, the Eagles added practice squad running back Matthew Tucker to their active roster. To make room, they released cornerback Jordan Poyer, a seventh-round pick in the 2013 draft.

The Cleveland Browns claimed Poyer and he finished the season with them.

Polk was back the following week and active for the rest of the Eagles’ games. He played extensively on special teams. His snap count on offense increased in the final four weeks.

And it turned out he needed surgery on the shoulder.

If that’s the case with Polk, it raises questions about other players. Safety Patrick Chung became the player fans loved to hate for his missed tackles and perceived blown coverages. But Chung “had a shoulder” after the Week 3 loss to Kansas City. He missed two games and then tried to come back too soon, leaving the Tampa Bay game after just 12 defensive snaps.

Chung was inactive the next two weeks before returning for the Oakland game. When rookie Earl Wolff was injured (Wolff “had a knee”) in Green Bay, Chung became the starter again.

Was Chung a free-agent bust who lost his job to a fifth-round pick? Or was Chung a veteran gutting out and playing hurt because the team was desperately thin at safety?

Injury deception affects perception.

Wolff is another example. Reporters managed to ascertain that he hyperextended his knee, but there was never any further explanation. Was anything torn? Sprained? Strained? Was there cartilage damage? A bone bruise?

Wolff also tried to return too soon from his injury. He lasted four snaps in the game against Chicago in Week 16, then didn’t play again. Every day before the playoff game against New Orleans, Wolff would give an awkward update on how he felt and what he was doing to try to be ready. He was inactive on game day.

Was Wolff merely a rookie not sure of the difference between discomfort and injury? Or was he feeling pressure to get back on the field despite a moderately serious knee injury? (Not pressure from head athletic trainer Chris Peduzzi and his staff, mind you. They're very good. But secrecy about the nature of the injury led to constant inquiries from reporters and even some teasing about Wolff getting back on the field.)

Kelly is a long way from being the first coach to keep injury information as limited as possible. Maybe it provides some competitive advantage. But that secrecy can also be a disservice to the players themselves.
PHILADELPHIA -- There was a time a rookie offensive tackle would be eased into NFL action. He might even start out at guard and gradually move outside as he became more comfortable.

Of course, there was also a time a quarterback might sit for all or most of a season before becoming a starter.

That time, in the ever faster-moving NFL, is gone.

So it should be no surprise that Lane Johnson, the fourth pick in the 2013 draft, played 1,103 of a possible 1,104 offensive snaps for the Philadelphia Eagles in his first season. Johnson was given one down off to catch his breath in the first game against the Giants in October.

It still takes more than a season to evaluate a draft class, but the process is being sped up all the time. Here’s a look at Johnson and the rest of the Eagles’ rookies -- or as first-year coach Chip Kelly puckishly dubbed them, “My favorite draft class for the Philadelphia Eagles.”

Johnson
First round: Lane Johnson, offensive tackle, Oklahoma. The fourth overall pick, Johnson was one of the three offensive tackles taken at the top of the draft. He arguably had a better overall rookie season than No. 1 pick Eric Fisher (Kansas City) and No. 2 pick Luke Joeckel (Jacksonville).

Perhaps inevitably for a guy who had played quarterback and defensive end before being shifted to the offensive line in college, Johnson had some growing pains. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed seven sacks in the first eight games of the season but just three the rest of the way. He was solid in run blocking, as well.

It’s worth noting, too, that few rookie tackles (if any) are asked to line up split wide and block on bubble screens. Johnson took everything thrown his way with a smile and a shrug. He’s got a chance to be anchored at tackle for this franchise for a decade.

Also on board: Almost everyone.

Good pick or bad pick? Very good pick.

Ertz
Second round: Zach Ertz, tight end, Stanford. Taking Ertz here, 35th overall, was an expression of GM Howie Roseman’s commitment to taking the top-graded player regardless of need. The Eagles already had signed James Casey in free agency and and had Brent Celek on the roster.

Would they have improved their overall team more by drafting cornerbacks Darius Slay or Johnthan Banks, or linebackers Manti Te’o or Kiko Alonso, or running back Giovani Bernard?

Maybe. But Ertz is going to be making plays in Kelly’s offense for years to come. He’s smart, driven and possesses excellent hands and good size (6-foot-5, 250). Like most young tight ends, he has to improve as a blocker and said he plans to spend time in the weight room in the offseason.

Also on board: Slay, Bernard, Te’o, Geno Smith and Tank Carradine were the next five players drafted. Alonso, who earned defensive rookie of the year consideration, went 11 picks later to Buffalo.

Good pick or bad pick? Good pick.

Logan
Third round: Bennie Logan, defensive tackle, LSU. The 6-foot-2, 309-pound Logan’s development allowed the Eagles to trade veteran Isaac Sopoaga at the deadline. Logan started at nose tackle the last eight games, which corresponded with the overall defense’s improvement.

Oddly, Logan had his only two sacks in the first half of the season, when he was playing limited snaps. It remains to be seen if he’s the true anchor/nose tackle of the future, but he has enough versatility to play in different fronts as needed.

Also on the board: Tyrann Mathieu, Mike Glennon, Terrance Williams, Terron Armstead, Keenan Allen.

Good pick or bad pick? Good. Best possible? A few of the guys taken right after Logan look pretty good, too.

Barkley
Fourth round: Matt Barkley, quarterback, USC. The Eagles traded up to take Barkley at the top of the fourth round. It seemed an odd move at the time -- everyone thought Kelly would prefer more mobile quarterbacks -- and is still easily debatable.

It wouldn’t be fair to read too much into Barkley’s limited playing time. He was pressed into service when Nick Foles and then Michael Vick were injured. Barkley had little practice time to draw upon. He threw four interceptions and zero touchdowns in 49 attempts.

If he’s the No. 2 quarterback here or eventually flipped to another team looking for a potential starter, he was worth the 98th pick in the draft. If he winds up starting here some day, he was a steal.

Also on board: Nico Johnson, Akeem Spence, Ace Sanders, Josh Boyce, Ryan Nassib.

Good pick or bad pick? Curious pick.

Wolff
Fifth round: Earl Wolff, safety, NC State. By this point in the draft, there’s an element of luck involved. The Eagles desperately needed safety help and took a shot on Wolff with the 136th pick. It was a good shot.

Wolff took the starting job from veteran Patrick Chung early in the season. He had his growing pains, but was starting to settle into the job when he hurt his knee Nov. 10 in Green Bay. Wolff made one brief appearance after that, aggravated the knee and didn’t play again.

Also on board: Jesse Williams, Tharold Simon, Montori Hughes, Stepfan Taylor and Oday Aboushi were the next five players taken.

Good pick or bad pick? Good pick.

Seventh round: Joe Kruger, defensive end , Utah. He spent the season on injured reserve. Should be an interesting guy to watch in training camp.

Seventh round: Jordan Poyer, cornerback, Oregon State. Poyer made the team coming out of camp, but was released when the Eagles needed to clear roster space for a running back in October. Cleveland claimed Poyer off waivers and he finished the season with the Browns.

Seventh round: David King, defensive end, Oklahoma. Released in camp.

Also on board: A bunch of guys.

Good picks or bad picks? Oh, come on.
 

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 11
Preseason Power Ranking: 25

Biggest surprise: Easy. Nick Foles. He started six games as a rookie in 2012, winning one of them and pretty much disappearing amid the debris of a 4-12 season. He seemed like a terrible fit for new coach Chip Kelly's offense, especially in contrast to the mobile Michael Vick. When Vick pulled a hamstring, Foles seized the starting job with epic numbers: 119.2 passer rating (third best all time), 27 touchdowns and two interceptions (best ratio ever). Foles won eight of his 10 starts and led the Eagles to the NFC East championship. Anyone who says they saw Foles' season coming is fibbing.

Biggest disappointment: The outcome of Saturday night's playoff game against New Orleans -- which says something about how thoroughly Kelly changed the culture here. No one expected the Eagles to win their division and reach the playoffs, but once they did, plenty of people expected them to win the first-round home game. But LeSean McCoy, the NFL's leading rusher, didn't have his best game, and the Saints caught the Eagles off guard by running the ball so much themselves. The Eagles appeared capable of beating almost anyone, including the Saints, which made the loss hard to swallow.

Biggest need: Defensive difference-makers, especially in the secondary. The cornerbacks were solid and improved steadily by season's end, but a shutdown corner or legitimate playmaking safety would help a lot. A close second would be a pass-rushing threat, preferably from the outside. Trent Cole had a good year making the transition from defensive end to linebacker, but he's not going to play forever. Funny: For the midseason version of this, I listed quarterback as the biggest need. That's how shocking Foles' performance was.

Team MVP: LeSean McCoy led the NFL in rushing and in total yards from scrimmage, setting Eagles franchise records in both categories. No one could argue with you if you named McCoy MVP of the team, or even of the NFC. But McCoy was the running back when the Eagles were 3-5 at the midway point. It wasn't until Foles took over the starting quarterback spot that the Eagles began winning games. That seems like the very definition of "most valuable." Nevertheless, the Eagles' first NFL rushing title since Steve Van Buren probably earns McCoy the team MVP award.

 

PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles may lack quality at the safety position, so they’re giving quantity a shot against the New Orleans Saints.

Wolff
Rookie safety Earl Wolff, listed as questionable with a knee injury, is active for Saturday night’s playoff game. Wolff has played only a single defensive series since injuring the knee Nov. 10 in Green Bay.

Veterans Patrick Chung and Kurt Coleman took first-team practice reps this week. So defensive coordinator Bill Davis is likely to use a rotation opposite safety Nate Allen in an attempt to find a solid combination. Colt Anderson, who is coming back from a knee injury, is also active.

The Eagles have five safeties active for this first-round playoff game. Davis only has to find two who can execute his defensive game plan.

Wide receiver/punt returner Damaris Johnson is inactive. That means DeSean Jackson will handle punt returns. It also means the Eagles will be without a speedy backup if Jackson is injured. Johnson has been active the last five games.

Backup center Julian Vandervelde is out because of a back injury. Left guard Evan Mathis, who was named to the AP All-Pro team this week, has practiced with the second team at center. He would fill in should starting center Jason Kelce be injured.
PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Eagles rookie safety Earl Wolff practiced with an asterisk Thursday.

Wolff
Wolff, who has missed five of six games with a knee injury, was listed as a full participant in Thursday’s session. He said his knee felt better than it has since being injured in Green Bay in November.

Normally that would be a good sign that Wolff will be ready to play. But here’s the asterisk: Because the Eagles are playing the New Orleans Saints on Saturday night, the Thursday practice was more like a light Friday session. Wolff didn’t exactly have to push himself. After the practice, he went through some extra drills to test the knee.

“It was football activity, what I would go through in a game,” Wolff said. “It didn’t bother me. I felt better than I did last week and the week before. I feel like it also depends on how I feel tomorrow, if I’m real sore.”

As for playing Saturday night, Wolff said it would be up to the coaches and training staff.

“It’s not my call anymore,” he said. “It’s their call.”

Defensive coordinator Bill Davis is faced with several less-than-ideal choices. Veteran Patrick Chung lost his job to Wolff earlier in the season. He has not exactly been Troy Polamalu since returning to the starting lineup.

Kurt Coleman had been splitting time with Chung before pulling a hamstring in Minnesota. Coleman played in Dallas, but was limited to special teams duty. He has practiced with the first team this week, but has been on the field for just 6 percent of the Eagles’ defensive plays all season.

If Wolff is physically ready, there’s still the issue of getting back up to game speed. When he tried to return against the Chicago Bears two weeks ago, the plan was for Chung to start and Wolff to ease back in. But he aggravated the knee on his first series and hasn’t played since.

“Earl has to practice if he's going to play” head coach Chip Kelly said. “If that’s your question, yeah, he's got to get out there at some point in time.”

It is unclear whether Thursday’s light workout counted in Kelly’s mind.

What is clear is that Saints quarterback Drew Brees is going to test the Eagles' safeties -- whether Wolff, Coleman or Chung is out there alongside Nate Allen -- until they prove they aren’t the weak link in the defense.

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