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Thrust into prominence


They are living proof of the "one play away" theory. All of a sudden, LaBrandon Toefield and Derrick Wimbush are players of major importance and it's all because of one otherwise meaningless play in the third quarter of the Jaguars' preseason win over Tampa Bay last Saturday.

It occurred with 10:01 to play in the quarter, following a seven-yard run by Greg Jones. On the play, Jones sustained a knee injury. At first, it was thought to be a sprain. A day later, it was discovered Jones had suffered a season-ending ligament tear.

The state of the Jaguars immediately changed. Gone was the running back who would split time with Fred Taylor. Gone was the team's starting fullback. Gone was a young player who appeared to be coming into the prime of his football life.

One play created all of that change and one play focused the spotlight on Toefield, a player thought to be on the cut bubble, and Wimbush, who was destined for another season of limited action. They were each just one play away from having their careers thrust into prominence.

"I think it's probably going to change a little bit," Toefield said when he was asked how his role will be altered by Jones' injury.

It's going to change a lot, beginning this Thursday night in Atlanta, where Toefield could find himself in the starting lineup, if Taylor rests a sore shoulder.

Toefield, a four-year veteran who flashed as a rookie but got lost in the crowd the last two seasons, is back in the backup role that belonged to him in 2003. Then, the Jaguars were rebuilding. Now, they're a playoff team.

"Greg was a big part of the offense. When you just stick him in there, defenses look at him like we have to tackle this guy? We have guys who are going to step up and play. All we can do is keep going. It's football. Injuries always happen. I had them," Toefield said.

In a cruel twist of irony, Toefield is getting his opportunity as a result of the same misfortune that befell him. Toefield has torn the anterior cruciate ligament in both knees. Jones just tore his second one.

"As long as I am here, whatever role they give me, I am going to go out and compete. I know I can play," Toefield said.

It was speculated Toefield might not be given the opportunity to play in Jacksonville this year. Prior to Jones' injury, the Jaguars had a surplus of running backs and may have been forced to cut a guy who was worthy of making their roster. It was speculated Toefield might be that guy, or that the Jaguars would seek a trade for him.

Not now.

"We're glad to have him," coach Jack Del Rio said of Toefield on Monday.

Just as Toefield's role was dramatically altered when Jones was injured, so was Wimbush's role upgraded. All of a sudden, Wimbush is the Jaguars' starting fullback. All of a sudden, a guy who was an undrafted rookie from Fort Valley State last season is a starter in the NFL this year.

"I get excited stepping onto the field and playing. I try to make big plays, whether it's blocking, catching, running or making a tackle on special teams. I just get excited by being on the field and being able to help the team win in the best way I can," Wimbush said.

Last year, Wimbush helped the Jaguars win by returning kickoffs, which he did surprisingly well. He brought one back 91 yards for a touchdown and consistently displayed thundering power in his returns.

Against Tampa last Saturday, Wimbush ran through tackles on a 27-yard catch-and-run play. His receiving and blocking skills are improving and he is developing into a capable fullback who has special running skills.

Toefield and Wimbush are also the two prime candidates to replace Jones as the Jaguars' short-yardage and goal-line running back. That'll be on display this Thursday, too.

"It's exciting. I get adrenaline just from coming out of the tunnel," Wimbush said.

The season just got a lot more exciting for Toefield and Wimbush.

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