Ravens' Wilcox grabs attention

Bid to be third tight end gains steam vs. Eagles

`he's got ... veteran savvy'

Pro Football

August 22, 2004|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

In another uneven and sometimes ugly offensive showing by the Ravens, one of the team's only constants during training camp was at the top of the statistical sheet again.

Daniel Wilcox, who is making a strong bid to make the team as the third tight end, continued one of the few feel-good stories of a preseason marked more by speculation about players not here (Deion Sanders, Chris McAlister) and inconsistency from the quarterbacks (Kyle Boller, Kordell Stewart).

Wilcox salvaged an otherwise woeful showing by Stewart in the Ravens' 26-17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday night. Stewart's only two completions - other than the two interceptions he threw to the Eagles - went to Wilcox, with the first covering 18 yards and jump-starting the Ravens' only touchdown drive. The two receptions tied a game high for the Ravens.

Although Wilcox did not score, as he did twice a week earlier against the Atlanta Falcons, he still provided one of the game's most impressive offensive plays, turning a simple crossing pattern up the sideline for a substantial gain.

"He's becoming very reliable," Stewart said. "When you have a guy that is as reliable as he is, it makes you want to get it to him. You know you can depend on him when he's in there."

Wilcox is not a rookie, but as far as his recognition around the NFL is concerned, he might as well be. His signing was so unheralded that the Ravens didn't even put out a news release, as they usually do for players with NFL experience. His name just suddenly appeared on the training camp roster.

It's easy to understand, though, why Wilcox's signing created barely a ripple in the organization. Since originally signing as a rookie free agent with the New York Jets in 2001, Wilcox, 6 feet 1, 245 pounds, has spent most of his time on the practice squad and as a game-day inactive.

Wilcox has played in only one NFL game, where he was used solely on special teams. A converted receiver out of Appalachian State, Wilcox said he fell into the mode of journeyman special teams player but has changed his attitude since joining the Ravens.

"For my first three years, I had the wrong mind-set," Wilcox said. "It's easy to get the mind-set that you are a special teams player when everyone keeps telling you that you're going to make the team on special teams.

"I never focused on tight end or anything else. I'm not going to say I went through the motions. I played and did good, but I did not do as good as I could have done."

That might be part of the reason Wilcox was out of the league nearly all of last year, when his career appeared over. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Wilcox off the Jets' practice squad in December 2002, and he remained with the team for two games last season before he was released.

Less than a year after winning a Super Bowl with the Bucs (though he was inactive during the playoffs), Wilcox found himself on his mother's couch outside Atlanta, unemployed and essentially homeless.

"I was at home, a couch potato," Wilcox said. "I didn't get a job. I was hoping somebody was going to pick me up. I thought I did good enough at that point for somebody to at least give me a chance on special teams because that is what got me where I was to that point.

"I had an apartment in Tampa but I couldn't afford to keep it. I moved everything out of there and moved home and sat around the whole season."

NFL Europe and a long memory by Ravens tight ends coach Wade Harman saved Wilcox's career. Harman remembered Wilcox coming out of college, where he was a first-team All-Southern Conference player as a senior (46 catches, 740 yards, seven touchdowns).

Wilcox had his agent sign him to play with the Rhein Fire, where he drew attention from the Ravens and a second look by Harman by leading the team with three touchdown catches.

"Though he hasn't made an impact in the NFL, he's been around for a few years," Harmon said. "He's got a little bit more veteran savvy to him."

That goes for off the field too. Wilcox said he knew what chance awaited him with the Ravens because of Trent Smith's leg injury. Smith would have been the heavy favorite to be the third tight end but has not practiced this year.

Now it is Wilcox who has provided a refreshing surprise to an offense that needs one.

"I felt like the third tight end spot was wide-open," Wilcox said. "I reviewed every roster spot they had at tight end, and I knew Trent was hurt. I knew we had two rookies in, and I knew if I performed the best I can, maybe I can slide in on this roster."

NOTE: The Ravens canceled today's afternoon practice. There is a full-squad practice from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. today.

Next for Ravens

Preseason matchup: Detroit Lions (1-1) vs. Ravens (1-1)

Site: M&T Bank Stadium

When: Saturday, 8 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 45, Comcast SportsNet/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

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