Talk about making the most of your opportunities.
K’Von Wallace has started six games in his career, he’s played nearly 500 snaps on defense and not too long ago, he was the Eagles’ dime safety and top backup.
His main role these days is playing special teams.
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Undrafted rookie Reed Blankenship moved ahead of Wallace on the safety depth chart a few weeks ago, and when Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was forced to leave Sunday’s game against the Packers with a lacerated kidney, it was Blankenship and not Wallace who replaced him.
It can’t be easy to accept a subordinate role when you’ve been a starter.
“It’s not,” Wallace said at his locker Wednesday. “It’s challenging. And if anybody else tells you anything different who’s in the same position as me? They’re lying.”
Nick Sirianni’s message to his players is be a star at whatever your role is. Embrace your role but don’t accept it.
Wallace has taken that to heart.
“The goal is to stay ready, and that’s what I try to do,” he said. “You’ve got to prepare like you’re a starter. You’ve got to watch film like you’re a starter, you’ve got to practice like you’re a starter. You’ve got to do things that make you happy and continue to find the joy in the game, and that’s a challenge I accept every single day.
“Find something about the game that makes you happy. I love the game. I love the practice. I love being around the guys., I love to win, and we’re a winning organization, I can’t complain about anything.”
It’s this mindset that’s allowed Wallace to make some big-time plays over the last few weeks.
In the loss to Washington, he made a solo open-field tackle on Terry McLauren short of the sticks on a huge 3rd-and-10, and in the win over the Packers he made maybe the play of his career.
After Blankenship had to leave the game with 1:46 left in the fourth quarter, Wallace came in cold. He hadn’t played a defensive snap all night.
On his third play, with the Packers trailing by 10 but with a 3rd-and-4 on the Eagles’ 15-yard-line, he found himself matched up in the end zone with slot receiver Randall Cobb, a former Pro Bowler with 53 career TDs.
Jordan Love threw in the end zone to Cobb, and Wallace broke up the pass with terrific coverage. The Packers settled for a field goal, and minutes later the Eagles had their 10th win.
“Those are high-leverage snaps,” defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said. “You talk about, ‘Hey, let's put this guy in on dime.’ Well, I tell guys all the time, ‘OK, it might be play 27 (of the game) and it's 3rd-and-5. You need a huge stop, and this guy is going in for the first play. There is no rhythm to that.’
“So I appreciate K'Von being able to do that. Because he can. He's started football games for us. I feel very comfortable with K'Von and the job that he does. We put a lot on his plate, too, because he's backing up two positions – really, four positions when you talk about adding all the packages.”
Wallace only played six snaps in that Washington game and only three snaps Sunday night. Both times, no excuses.
He was ready.
“You go look at the games I started (in the past), I was very productive, and I pride myself on playing well for my defense,” he said. “I pride myself for doing my part, my 1-11th.
“Sometimes, I look in the mirror and I’m like, ‘What could I have done better?’ And there’s a bunch of things I did that probably put me in this position, but you can only control what you can control, and all I can do now is move forward from that.
“I don’t look in the mirror to say, 'Woe is me.' I look in the mirror to see what I can fix and continue to battle through adversity.”
Which is nothing new for Wallace, who played high school football at Highland Springs (Va.), just outside Richmond, then at Clemson.
“At every level, it’s been challenging,” he said. “High school I didn’t start until my senior year. College it took me a minute to get into the starting lineup. And now in the league, kind of the same way.
“So I’ve always been battle tested, and I always battle through adversity, but that’s what made me a man. That’s what made me where I’m at today. I’ve just got to keep battling through adversity and make sure I am ready when my number is called.”
It doesn’t hurt that Wallace is surrounded by guys like Marcus Epps, a former 6th-round pick who was released by the Vikings; Gardner-Johnson and Josiah Scott, who were 4th-round picks; Blankenship, who was undrafted; and Andre Chachere, who’s been released 10 times.
Those guys have all overcome extreme odds to play for the NFL’s top-ranked pass defense.
“It’s a bunch of guys who are just hungry,” Wallace said. “Reed came in, was a rookie free agent, came out and balled when his number was called. A lot of guys who battled through adversity and made some plays, and that’s just the whole room. We feed off each other. We compete with each other but we do it together.
“Everybody is out there trying to make plays for their team, for their brothers, and that’s why we’ve been playing at such a high level and there hasn’t been a dropoff when someone gets hurt.”
Wallace might not get any reps Sunday against the Titans. He might not get any the rest of the year.
But if he does?
“He's always mentally ready to go,” Gannon said. “He practices his tail off out there. When we need him, he goes in there and plays well.”