Ravens' Williams Hopes to Nab Receiver Spot

By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 15, 2006

WESTMINSTER, Md., Aug. 14 -- Demetrius Williams has spent more time thinking about the one catch he didn't make in the Baltimore Ravens' preseason opener against the New York Giants than reflecting on the three catches he did make. In the final seconds of the first half on Friday night, the rookie wide receiver leapt high for a pass in the end zone, got his hands on the ball, but lost control of it as he fell with cornerback Frank Walker on his back.

Never mind that quarterback Kyle Boller threw the ball behind Williams and that a better pass would have made for an easier catch. Williams thinks he should have made the play.

"I was always taught -- and my dad started me off young -- that whenever the ball is in the air, you go get it," Williams said. "It's your ball. That's just my attitude. If I can go get it, I'll definitely try to get it."

What else would you expect from a player whose nickname is Spider-Man and who has an elaborate tattoo of the superhero -- with a football ensnared in his web -- on his upper right arm? Williams caught three passes for 43 yards against the Giants, continuing his strong work in the preseason.

"He made some great plays," Coach Brian Billick said. "I would have liked to see him make that catch in the end zone; then that would have been a brilliant night for him. But he's making great strides and is showing he's capable of those kinds of plays."

The Ravens have two established starters at wide receiver, and Billick has said Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton are the best 1-2 punch the Ravens have had at the position in his tenure. A year ago, Mason led the team in receptions (a franchise-record 86) and receiving yards (1,073), and Clayton, the 22nd overall pick in 2005, set Ravens rookie records with 44 catches for 471 yards.

The question is who will fill the third wide receiver spot. Both Williams and Devard Darling have gotten work in that role, and both have made impressive catches on the practice field at McDaniel College. Clarence Moore, another candidate, practiced for the first time on Monday afternoon; the third-year player spent the last two weeks on the physically unable to perform list following offseason surgery for a sports hernia.

The Ravens took the 6-foot-2, 197-pound Williams in the fourth round of the draft, and they were thrilled to do so because they had him ranked as one of the top wide receivers. In four seasons at the University of Oregon, he had 162 receptions (third on the school's career list) for 2,660 yards (fourth all-time). He picked up the Spider-Man nickname while at Oregon because of his penchant for trying to catch everything with one hand.

"He's shown excellent play-making ability," wide receivers coach Mike Johnson said. "He has excellent hands and body control. He'll be a good route-runner in time."

Darling is in his third season with the Ravens, but his career has been limited to 13 games and two catches due to a variety of injuries. As a result, he jokes he feels more like a "tweener" -- someone who's not quite a veteran, and not really a rookie.

He rattles off the list of ailments that have slowed him since the Ravens took him with the 82nd overall pick in the 2004 draft. There was the quadriceps strain, the bruised heel that turned out to be a stress fracture, the plantar fasciitis, and the pulled hamstring.

"Man, it was all bad," Darling said. "Of course it's been frustrating. But at the same time, it gave me time to sit back and learn what this NFL game is about. It's a business. It made me realize that I have to come out here everyday and perform."

For once, Darling can do that because he's finally healthy, thanks to an offseason in which he trained hard but also took care of his legs by carefully stretching and getting massages. The 6-foot-1 Darling also lost weight; he said he reported to camp at 208 pounds, which is closer to his college weight of 205 than last year's 215.

The key now is finding some consistency; in camp, Darling often has followed spectacular catches with drops. He didn't have a reception against the Giants.

While Darling is familiar with Baltimore's offense, Williams has had to play catch-up. He missed the Ravens' offseason workouts because of an NFL rule that limits rookies to one minicamp while their school is in session and then was forced to the sideline for a couple of days in training camp with a sore hamstring. He has studied the playbook because he realizes the athleticism that set him apart in college needs to be matched with smarts and precision in the NFL.

"The first day I got here, I ran a route, it was like an in-breaking route, and Samari [Rolle, a former Pro Bowl cornerback] actually ran my route for me," Williams said. "I was sitting there [thinking that] in college, I could've gotten away with this and been open five yards away from the DB. These guys are so smart. . . . I had to go over afterward and ask him, 'What did I do wrong?' "

Ravens Notes: Rookie defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who sat out last week with a sprained knee, has resumed practicing. . . . Mason (mild concussion) and linebacker Mike Smith (knee contusion), both of whom were injured against the New York Giants on Friday night, also practiced on Monday. . . . Tackle Jonathan Ogden, who rejoined the team on Thursday after the death of his father, continued to do conditioning work on the side.

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