Aston, PA -- In 2013, Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin had a breakout season, intercepting six passes, which was good for second in the NFL behind only star Seahawks CB Richard Sherman. Boykin established himself as perhaps the best slot corner in the NFL. In 2014, another Eagles defensive back has his sights set on at least six interceptions. That would be safety Earl Wolff.
“This year, my goal is to have six or more,” said Wolff, who attended, but did not play in LeSean McCoy's "Shades of Greatness" celebrity basketball game Saturday afternoon.
Wolff had a target number of interceptions picked out, but still has to determine his other individual goals. “I haven’t sat down and (figured out my season goals) yet. I plan on doing that next week before we start camp, but I’m going to build on my goals from last year.”
Wolff’s goals last season were fairly simple. He wanted to win a starting job and learn the defense. At the time, Wolff's competition at safety was much weaker. The projected starting safeties heading into camp were Nate Allen, who had struggled the previous season, and Patrick Chung. Wolff started as early as Week Four against Peyton Manning and the Broncos after Chung was injured, and retained his starting spot when Chung was healthy enough to play. However, a knee injury sidelined Wolff for six of the final seven games of the season, including the playoff loss to the Saints.
This season, Wolff's primary competition for a starting spot is an improved Allen and priority free agent Malcolm Jenkins. The Eagles also drafted Ed Reynolds out of Stanford in the fifth round, and signed special teams standout Chris Maragos away from the Seahawks. Jenkins is nearly a lock to start at one safety spot, so Wolff will have to beat out the rest of that bunch to have enough opportunities to achieve his lofty goal.
Wolff doesn't feel like his athletic ability is in question. "I feel like athletically, I’ve always been (athletically gifted)," said Wolff. He's right. At the 2013 Combine, Wolff had outstanding athletic measurables. The following is a chart showing how Wolff compared in various measurables to other safeties competing at the Combine since 1999 (via mockdraftable.com).
Those are highly impressive numbers. And watch how easy he makes this jump look (via YouTube):
Wolff also showed hints that he can hit with some pop, which is something Allen has never shown.
The Daily News' Derek Sarley made a film breakdown argument after Week Three last season for why Wolff simultaneously should, and shouldn't, be starting. Sarley highlighted Wolff's athletic ability, as well as a lack of awareness common to rookies learning a new defensive scheme.
"Last year, around the first couple of games, everybody was still learning, still trying to understand the defense," explained Wolff. "But now, we have it. Everybody, from the younger guys (to the veterans), I feel like everyone is extremely comfortable (in the scheme), everybody is playing fast, everybody is competing, so we’re all really excited to see what happens this year."
While Wolff mostly took second team reps in OTAs and minicamp behind Allen, the Eagles' staff would likely be inclined to give Wolff the starting nod over Allen if their training camp competition is close. Allen re-signed with the Eagles in free agency this offseason, but is only in Philly on a one-year deal. If Wolff were to prove that he has mastered Billy Davis' defensive scheme, it would be hard to leave his impressive athleticism and potential long-term benefits on the sidelines in favor of Allen.
Obviously, for Wolff to intercept six passes this season, he'll have to start. And he'll have to stay healthy. And he'll have to be awesome.
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