PHILADELPHIA – The moment got lost, mostly because the Philadelphia Eagles lost the game and another starting quarterback Sunday.
It is a moment worth revisiting, though, because it could represent a step toward something the Eagles have lacked for half a decade – a safety whose whereabouts are keenly noted by opposing receivers.
Third quarter, Dallas had the ball at midfield. Tony Romo stepped back and spotted Dez Bryant running a slant from the left side. Romo threw a little high, Bryant reached up, caught the ball and turned upfield to—
Earl Wolff caught Bryant with a hit that drew a loud “Ooooohhhh” from the crowd at Lincoln Financial Field. Bryant held onto the ball, but he and Wolff collapsed into separate heaps. Both walked off the field and were attended to by medical staff.
Fortunately, both players returned. But Wolff, a rookie from North Carolina State, had delivered the biggest hit of his young career.
“Wolff is a hitter,” cornerback Cary Williams said. “He’s a guy that doesn’t shy away from contact. He’ll go right in and stick his nose in there with the best of them. That’s what you want at safety, a guy that’s fearless, that’s relentless, and a guy that will play four quarters. That’s all I need out there.”
Williams knows a little bit about safeties, having spent three-plus seasons in Baltimore with a guy named Ed Reed. It would be unfair to compare Wolff to Reed or to Brian Dawkins, the Eagles’ last impact player at his position, for a couple of reasons. He is a fifth-round pick with seven games’ experience, and the NFL has legislated truly reckless play out of the game.
Wolff led with his shoulder when he hit Bryant, but his helmet made contact with the receiver’s. The play could just as easily have drawn a penalty flag. But the point was that Wolff sacrificed himself, made a big hit and was in the right position to do it.
Earlier, Wolff blitzed Romo from the quarterback’s left. He jumped as Romo threw the ball and forced an incompletion.
“Once you get more comfortable with the scheme,” Wolff said, “you’re able to relax. You’re not thinking out there about what you have to do. The game of football is about reacting and making plays.”
Wolff was being eased into the lineup as he came to understand the defense and what offenses were trying to do. But when veteran Patrick Chung injured his shoulder, Wolff had to start before he was fully prepared. His first start was in Denver, against Peyton Manning.
He, along with the rest of the defense, has improved dramatically since then.
“Earl's getting better and better as we go,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “He made some plays, like always. I think Earl is one of those guys that individually is working hard at keeping his errors down and his play is rising as a result.”
“Coming from college to here, you haven’t had a break at all,” William said. “I think he’s doing a great job, just loving the game and embracing his role as a starter right now. He’s flying around and having fun and getting after people.”