Earl Wolff's return to the practice field on Sunday was an important step for the safety after he missed two days because his sore knee lingered longer than anticipated.
Wolff stayed on the sideline during the Eagles' team drills in Thursday's practice even though he wore full pads. Before Friday's practice, coach Chip Kelly downplayed Wolff's ailment. He said that he expected the second-year player to participate and that it wasn't a concern.
But Wolff sat again, saying that he did not feel ready to return after warm-ups. He wanted Saturday's day off to recover.
Before Sunday's practice, Kelly said, "it's his call." Wolff was back on the practice field taking the snaps with the first-team defense.
"My thing is if I can go, I go," Wolff said. "I need to have full range of motion. Because all I know is one speed. I don't know how to play it slow. . . . I play at full speed all the time. And if I can't play the game, then I really can't play."
Wolff would not call what he dealt with in recent days an "injury." He preferred saying it was "a little sore." He would not confirm that it was the right knee, but he smiled when he conceded that it was "possibly" the same knee that kept him inactive for five games and on the sideline in uniform during the postseason.
Wolff believed that the extra time off this weekend was necessary, and said he felt the benefit on Sunday. He noticed a difference during warm-ups and had a gear that was not available on Friday. Wolff, 24, insisted that the knee would not be a lingering problem.
But Wolff is now left answering questions about how much pain he will tolerate, and the dilemma of an athlete playing hurt. Wolff said he knows his body better than anyone else, so he has an idea of what he can withstand.
Wolff also clarified what "100 percent" means for a football player. He said he has never entered a season fully healthy since the time he pulled his hamstring in eight grade. That's the nature of playing football. What he considers "100 percent" is being able to play at the speed he thinks is necessary to help the team instead of hurt it.
"There's always going to be something nagging," Wolff said. "But when I can't move, when I really can't move, I can't go."
He used his history as an example of his willingness to tolerate pain on the field. Wolff said he played with a tear in his shoulder during his sophomore year at North Carolina State from the second week on.
"I know I can play with an injury," Wolff said. "But with legs, it's kind of different."
He also does not believe there's an issue with his communication with the training staff. He said the staff knows he wants to play and noted his hatred for missing even practice time.
But last December was an odd time for Wolff, who at one point returned to the lineup before going back on the shelf. He was at times a full participant in practice during the week yet on the sideline on Sundays.
So it was noteworthy on Sunday when Kelly said that the trainers told him that Wolff would be a full participant, but that "he's going to tell you how good he feels."
The positive news for the Eagles is that Wolff returned, and the competition with Nate Allen for the second safety spot next to Malcolm Jenkins remains ongoing. Wolff's health will continue to be an issue to monitor as the indicator for his inclusion comes down to how the safety feels.
"I know what I can do and what I can't do," Wolff said. "I feel like if I can't help my team as much as I think I can, I don't need to be out there if I'll hurt the team more than I'll help."