PHILADELPHIA – It doesn’t seem fair. Earl Wolff will probably start for the first time in his NFL career – which so far consists of three games – and the quarterback staring at him across the line of scrimmage might just be the best of all time.
Wolff – a rookie safety from North Carolina State and the Eagles’ fifth-round draft pick back in April – has been working with the starters all week as they prepare for Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos and their quarterback, Peyton Manning, who is on pace to have one of the best seasons in NFL history. Manning was practically perfect in the Broncos’ first three games, which includes an impressive victory over the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in the season opener, and he has a chance to rewrite the NFL record book.
And now it appears Wolff will get his chance to see the Peyton Manning show, up close and personal, when the Eagles play the Broncos on Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Starter Patrick Chung has a shoulder injury that kept him out of practice this week, so all signs point to Wolff being thrown to the wolves this Sunday.
“It’s a challenge, but I love challenges,’’ Wolff said. “I know he’s going to see me, a rookie, and try to take advantage of that, but that’s fine with me. The more he comes at me, the more chances I get to make a big play.
“Peyton is one of the best of all time and everybody knows that, but you can’t be intimidated,’’ Wolff added. “I’m just a rookie, but I’m an NFL player, too, and I get paid to do a job. And I plan on doing it.’’
Maybe that’s confidence or just the ignorance of youth, but Wolff is used to doing things the hard way. He didn’t have an easy road to the NFL – he wasn’t heavily recruited coming out of high school and North Carolina State was the only school to offer him a scholarship, and even though he had a great career with the Wolfpack, he had to wait until the fifth round of the draft before he heard his name called.
“In this league you have to prove yourself every day, whether you’re a first-round pick or a fifth-round pick,’’ he said. “It just so happens that I have to prove myself against one of the best quarterbacks of all time. I know he’ll come after me, but I look forward to it.’’
Wolff was a rapt viewer on Monday night when Manning torched the Raiders in perhaps the best game of what so far has been his best season. He completed 32 of 37 passes in the 32-21 victory, the best completion percentage (86.5) of his remarkable career, and threw for three touchdowns.
“How could you not be impressed?’’ Wolff said. “He just picked them apart. He made it look easy.’’
Wolff impressed the coaches in training camp, but his lack of experience pushed him behind Nate Allen on the depth chart for the other safety spot. Now he’ll be teamed with Allen.
“He’s smart, he’s resilient and he’s a good athlete,’’ Allen said. “I’m not worried about Earl at all. He knows the challenge in front of him, but we’re all going to be challenged by that team. Like all of us, he just has to do his job, play his assignments the right way, and let his natural talent takle over.’’
Wolff was born and raised in North Carolina and went to N.C. State, but he also had strong Philadelphia connections before he was drafted by the Eagles. His mother grew up in North Philadelphia and he still has several relatives who still live in the area – in fact, Wolff said he had a couple of uncles who wore Eagles jerseys on draft day, hoping he would be selected by their hometown team. And the coach to whom Wolff gives the most credit for his development as a defensive player, his college secondary coach Mike Reed, a Wilmington native who was an Eagles assistant from 2002-2006.
Contact Kevin Noonan at email@example.com.