Tough route to go by

Tight end Daniel Wilcox had a long road to the Ravens.

August 14, 2006|By DAVID SELIG | DAVID SELIG,SUN REPORTER

After most of the Ravens had left the practice field Tuesday morning, Daniel Wilcox spent a few minutes teaching rookie tight end Quinn Sypniewski how to quickly turn his body toward the quarterback and become a better pass-catching target.

A fifth-round draft pick who had difficulty catching passes in the early session, Sypniewski watched closely as Wilcox demonstrated what he was explaining.

Entering his fifth NFL season, Wilcox is a veteran. But after signing a three-year contract in March, this is the first time the tight end and special teams player is enjoying some stability.

"It feels great, because they called me first and made me the first free-agent signing this offseason," said Wilcox, who went undrafted in 2001. "To me, that means a lot. I had to work for everything I've got, so I take my contract as a blessing."

For more evidence of what it means for Wilcox to have a permanent home, look no farther than the parking lot at the team's hotel in Westminster.

Wilcox said he has always driven a truck, so he chose to buy a 2006 Ford F-150 after signing his deal. It suits the personality of a player who has piled up mileage in his quest to play professional football and gets little recognition for his work as the Ravens' leader in special teams tackles (18) last season.

But Wilcox's new truck has shiny 28-inch rims, a symbol not only of his financial status, but of his ability as a receiver, which has coaches believing he can play a greater role in the offense this season.

"My style is different from a lot of other people," said Wilcox, who caught one pass for 8 yards in the Ravens' preseason opener Friday. "They say I'm real smooth, fluid and stylish out here on the field, so it's pretty much the same thing when it comes to my ride. I like to be a little rough and rugged on the field and a little rough and rugged with my car. It's got big tires and people call it the `Tonka Truck,' but it's still got a little class to it - black leather and suede."

A wide receiver for most of his time at Appalachian State, Wilcox took a long road to obtaining that fancy interior. The Ravens made him a free-agent offer after the 2001 draft, but knowing the team had taken Todd Heap with its first pick that year, Wilcox instead signed with the New York Jets.

Wilcox won a Super Bowl ring after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed him off the Jets' practice squad in December 2002, but he was inactive for the entire postseason and it looked like his NFL hopes were fading. After Wilcox was cut two games into the 2003 season, his next destination was the living room of his mother's house in Atlanta.

"I basically went broke sitting at home on my mom's couch," Wilcox said. "I was just working out every day hoping somebody would pick me up. It's different coming from an NFL team and being on TV every Sunday and working your butt off with all the celebrities around the world to being at home and trying to get a job at Wal-Mart or Target. It's a huge difference, and my pride wouldn't allow me to do it at the time, because I wasn't finished with football."

Even though he didn't factor in the Buccaneers' playoff run, Wilcox said winning a ring was special, and it helped persuade him to take a stint in NFL Europe, where he got the attention of several NFL teams playing tight end for the Rhein Fire.

It was that offseason when Ravens tight end coach Wade Harman recalls looking at a list of potential additions with George Kokinis, the team's director of pro personnel, and seeing one name that "clicked" in his head.

"We definitely saw there was a role in the passing game he could fill for us," said Harman, who first scouted Wilcox after his senior season. "He's an unbelievable route-runner, he's got great quickness and I'm sure being a wide-out in college helps him. He's really developed into a great receiver."

Harman said Wilcox also came to the Ravens with a work ethic and humility tested by years of uncertainty. Wilcox, 29, acknowledges he wasn't mentally prepared to compete for the tight end role with the Jets, but things were different when he returned to Baltimore. He knew Heap was a lock for the starting role, but was confident he could outwork backups Terry Jones and Trent Smith and find his way onto the field.

"I knew I had a lot more fight and I knew that I was hungrier than anyone who was out here at the time," Wilcox said.

Along with catching 45 passes over the past two years, Wilcox has embraced his role off the field and become one of the team's most active members in the community. The former student at Georgia Military Academy spent 12 days this summer visiting U.S. troops at military bases in Afghanistan with other NFL representatives.

And often willing to lend a helpful hand - whether overseas, through his charitable foundation or with a younger teammate at training camp - Wilcox can add torque to an offense looking to switch gears this season after releasing fullback Alan Ricard.

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