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Earl Wolff, seen here in pregame warmups, took a bad angle on a run that resulted in a 62-yard Jaguars touchdown run. (USA Today Images)
Tape review might reveal some very good plays made by safety Earl Wolff in Saturday night’s preseason game, but all the rookie safety could talk about afterward was the one snap he’d like back.
Wolff, who alternated with Nate Allen on the first-team defense, couldn’t get his hands or body on Jordan Todman about 10 yards deep into a 62-yard touchdown run by the Jags second-year halfback in the second quarter. Wolff had Todman in his sights as he pursued, but took the wrong angle and never recovered.
After the game, Wolff gave himself an honest evaluation but came down hard on the miscue that cleared the way for the third run of at least 50 yards, and second of at least 60, against the Eagles this preseason.
“I did my job most of the time, but that long run I feel like I could have done a better job, could have taken a better angle,” he said. “I was a little too aggressive. I take the blame for that.”
Wolff wasn’t the lone culprit. Nobody in the front seven got off their block in time to crash down on Todman, who followed his trail of blockers as he cut into the middle of the Birds’ defense and then broke free into the open field.
Patrick Chung, the other safety, had come in from deep to briefly slow down Todman and force the halfback into cutting to the right. Wolff, who lined up about 20 yards off scrimmage before the snap, took a diagonal route toward the running back and had a chance to corral Todman at midfield, but was never in the position to make the tackle.
Once Todman got past Wolff, he kicked into high gear and outran DeMeco Ryans and Cary Williams to the right corner of the end zone.
“Being in that position, you have to be more patient,” Wolff said. “I was just being aggressive. I just have to learn to be more patient when I’m in that situation.”
Wolff wondered how the breakdown might factor into the coaches’ evaluation of an otherwise solid effort. It’s just one mistake, but some are more costlier than others.
In this case, a third-year running back drafted in the sixth round of the 2011 draft and already on his third team put an easy six on the board for Jacksonville.
It’s the kind of blemish that could make the staff think twice about starting him over veteran Nate Allen even though Allen’s had his own troubles in tackling for the past few seasons.
“Honestly, I’m not exactly sure how they’ll feel about it,” Wolff said. “I’m not known for taking bad angles. I’m still surprised that I really took that angle. I was just being too aggressive.”
Fundamental tackling is one reason the Eagles seemed enthused that Wolff was still on the board when they picked 136th overall in the fifth round. The former N.C. State standout had made first-team All-ACC and finished fourth on the school’s list for career tackles.
Wolff made an early impression at the spring camps, stealing some occasional first-team reps. He was the only defensive rookie to see time on the first-team defense in the spring.
Just by splitting reps with Allen against the Jags, Wolff is showing that he’s a legit threat to overtake Allen for the job.
“I guess the coaches see that I have enough confidence and I guess they wanted to see what I can do [Saturday],” he said. “I probably did OK, other than that one play, and it’s still eating me alive right now -- and will probably next week.”
Late-round rookies tend to need playing time on special teams and in select packages before they can work their way into the starting lineup, but Wolff thinks he’s ready to step in right now and make an impact.
“I feel I’m pretty comfortable, like when I’m out there I’m not doing too much thinking,” he said. “I’m doing a lot of reacting. I feel like I did a pretty good job of doing my job today, other than that one play. I feel like I didn’t have any mental errors. That was my goal, to go out there and show the coaches I know the defense and I know what to do.”