Darling starts to get noticed

Little-used Ravens receiver has No. 1 role at minicamp

Pro football

June 15, 2006|By KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG | KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG,SUN REPORTER

In the NFL, we hold these truths to be self-evident: The stopwatch, the scale and the measuring tape rarely lie.

For obvious reasons, these three simple devices cannot tell a coach or a general manager everything there is to know about a football player. But more often than not, they help front office personnel filter through the flotsam and jetsam of the athletic world to identify those who should and who should not occupy space on NFL rosters.

If you take into account each of these measurements, it's clear that Devard Darling should be a good, if not great, NFL wide receiver. He's fast. He's tall. He's strong. He has large, soft hands and has an impressive college resume to back up his chiseled physique.

But in reality, these numerous physical gifts have not translated yet into success. In two years, Darling, a third-round draft pick by the Ravens in 2004, has just two catches. And he knows, as well as anyone, that he may be running out of time to prove he belongs.

"I know I can be a very productive receiver in this league," Darling said. "And when the opportunity presents itself, I'll be ready."

Opportunity seems to be knocking this week for Darling, but how long it lasts may be up to him. With starter Mark Clayton missing time with a hamstring injury, with backup Clarence Moore still recovering from a sports hernia operation and with fourth-round pick Demetrius Williams unable to practice under NFL rules as long as the University of Oregon is still in session, Darling has been thrust into an unfamiliar role at Ravens minicamp.

Starter.

"You have to feel good when you come out here and you see that you're gaining the trust of your coaches and your peers," said Darling, who caught several passes from Steve McNair during the scrimmage part of camp yesterday. "That's the No. 1 thing you're shooting for."

Trust and respect are certainly good things, but making yourself indispensable to an NFL team is another. Last year, coming off a disappointing, injury-marred rookie season, there was no guarantee that Darling would even make the Ravens' roster.

He survived final cuts only when the Ravens decided to keep six wide receivers, two more than the previous year, but he appeared in just 10 games and failed to record a catch the entire season.

If Darling needed a not-so-subtle reminder that his window of opportunity may be closing, offensive coordinator Jim Fassel provided one yesterday.

"This is the year he's got to show it," Fassel said. "He's had some learning curve. It's been long enough now. He's got to show the progress this year. He's got to show that he's more than potential and that he can perform. He has the tools, and I like his attitude. He's got to show us that he's got some things going that can help us win."

Darling may look like a prototypical NFL wide receiver, but he certainly didn't take the typical path to get this far. Born in the Bahamas, Darling didn't move to Houston until he was 12 years old, and his Bahamian accent still creeps its way into many of his sentences, mixing at times with the hint of a Southern drawl.

"I'm a real laid-back dude," Darling said. "I've still got that island spirit in me. It will never leave me. I'm just a real chill dude."

Darling knows, too, that he's not just playing for himself each time he suits up. He's playing to help spread football back home in the Bahamas and for his twin brother, Devaughn, who died during an offseason workout when the two were playing at Florida State. (Darling transferred to Washington State after his brother's death.)

"That was my twin brother's and my goal and lifetime dream, to institute football in the Bahamas and the culture," Darling said. "There is a lot of Bahamian pride, and there are a lot of Bahamian Ravens fans there now. I'm about to go back home at the end of this month and put on my first camp back home, so everyone is excited back there. ... I just believe that ability without opportunity is a curse. So we've just got to get out there and get it done."

Darling might as well have also been talking about his own situation.

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