Wolfe becomes unlikely tackling star on special teams
Garrett Wolfe didn’t know what he was doing.
“It was absolutely foreign to me,” Wolfe said of covering kicks in a preseason game against Houston last year. “I hadn’t done it. I wasn’t attacking. I was getting attacked.”
Wolfe hadn’t tackled anyone since he was a freshman in high school. He didn’t want to start tackling in the NFL.
He wanted to run. But the NFL’s smallest running back became one of its smallest tacklers when the 5-foot-7, 186-pound Wolfe settled in as Chicago’s third-string running back. Third-string Bears play special teams, or else they don’t remain Bears.
Yet Wolfe still hesitated. “It was something I didn’t want to do, because I had never done it before,” he said.
A few games of sitting on the bench changed the perspective for Wolfe, Northern Illinois University’s all-time leading rusher.
“I wasn’t doing anything,” he said. “I wanted to be a part of the team winning, so I wanted to do special teams.”
Wolfe has quickly become a big part of Chicago’s special teams. He tied for the team high with two special teams tackles two weeks ago at Carolina and had four solo tackles – double that of any teammate – in last week’s upset of Philadelphia.
Wolfe said nothing about playing running back prepared him for special teams.
“It’s totally different,” he said. “It was a big mental adjustment. You are used to being the guy with the ball and being a target. Now, I’m targeting people.
“But I consider myself an athlete. It’s not like I’m going above and beyond. These are plays that are coming to me and I’m just doing my job.”
Wolfe and his teammates are doing the best job in the NFL. The Bears (2-2) lead the league in kickoff defense; opponents, on average, are starting at the 21.9-yard line.
“Being on the best special teams group in the NFL is something we’re all very prideful in,” Wolfe said. “To be a part of this unit is a special thing.”
As a running back, Wolfe can overcome his lack of size by making people miss. But now that he’s looking for collisions, the Littlest Tackler brings kick returners down by getting even smaller.
“You’ve got to know how to pick your battles,” Wolfe said. “You have to go low. That’s the easiest way to get a guy down. You can’t go anywhere without your legs.”
Wolfe still dreams of being a running back – his only carry this year is a 38-yard run on a fake punt – but for now the second-year pro relishes making an impact on special teams.
“It’s tough,” Wolfe said, “but it’s about making the most out of your opportunity. That’s something I’ve always prided myself on, throughout high school and college, is making the most out of whatever is presented to me.
“The hardest part was the want-to. In football, everything is about want-to. It’s about an attitude.”
Wolfe’s attitude about tackling changed as soon as he grasped an obvious fact: “If you are on the sidelines, you are not going to have an opportunity to make a play,” he said.
He had one chance to make a tackle in that first preseason game against Houston last year. He didn’t make it.
“I didn’t want to be out there anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal,” Wolfe said.
“Now I would be very upset if I didn’t make the play, because I pride myself on being a playmaker. Every time the ball comes to me, I want to make a play.”
Matt Trowbridge can be reached at (815) 987-1383 firstname.lastname@example.org.