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Raiders Darius makes good first impression

NAPA, Calif. (AP) - Donovin Darius wanted to make a good first impression. Oakland Raiders running back LaMont Jordan just happened to get in his way.

Darius, the veteran safety who signed with the Raiders as a free agent in June after eight seasons in Jacksonville, delivered a hit on Jordan during a 7-on-7 drill Saturday that momentarily dazed the 5-foot-10, 230-pound runner and left coach Lane Kiffin with an ear-to-ear grin.

"We got ourselves a hitter, I know that much," Kiffin said. "He about knocked LaMont out of practice."

While the Raiders would prefer Darius save such hits for the opposition, it was also precisely the same reason they pursued him as quickly and vigorously as they did after he was released by the Jaguars.

Oakland owned the NFL's top-ranked pass defense in 2006, allowing just 150.8 yards a game. The Raiders were third in overall defense, as well, the lone bright spot on a team that finished 2-14 and out of the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year.

What Oakland lacked in its secondary, however, was a veteran presence, not to mention a physical hitter. Darius, who turns 32 next month, fit the bill perfectly.

A mainstay in the Jaguars' secondary, he was released in the offseason after the Jags drafted Reggie Nelson in the first round of the April draft. Jacksonville also used its fifth-round pick on a safety, Josh Gattis of Wake Forest, signaling a youth movement that ended with Darius being let go.

Darius wasn't surprised when he was released. If anything, he feels Jaguars' coach Jack Del Rio did him a favor.

"They were in a position where they had been doing some talking about me, and some of the young (players) had started to come around," Darius said. "Jack said he respected me enough that he didn't want to diminish my role. He wanted to give me an opportunity to get other offers. I'm grateful for that."

Donovin put up big numbers in Jacksonville, leading the secondary in tackles his first seven seasons in the league while playing primarily strong safety. But it was his leadership and work ethic that attracted the Raiders' attention most.

According to Kiffin, Darius is generally the first player out to practice and is frequently on the field long before his teammates. That work ethic is not surprising for someone who spends his free time as a member of the players' union executive committee and on the players' advisory committee to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

"Anyone who's known the guy knows that that's what the guy is," Kiffin said. "He'll be out here 25 minutes before practice going through his steps. He's been in the league 10 years but he acts like a rookie. Those are the type of people you build your team around."

The Raiders already have established starters in Stuart Schweigert and Michael Huff, the team's first-round pick last season. But through the first two days of training camp, Darius has been alternating with both players as Oakland defensive coordinator Rob Ryan seeks which combination of the two he prefers. Ryan might also be tempted to use all three in the 4-2-5 formation the Raiders used with good success two seasons ago.

Darius, who missed 14 games because of a torn knee ligament in 2005 and the final six games of 2006 after breaking his leg Nov. 20 against the New York Giants, figures to be in the rotation somewhere.

"One thing I told my wife yesterday is that I don't have anything to prove to anyone, not even myself," Darius said. "I talked to the safeties here and I just let them know, 'I'm going to learn from you and you're going to learn from me and we're going to learn together."

Notes: The Raiders signed second-round draft pick Zach Miller. Miller, who played at Arizona State, missed the team's first training camp practice Friday but was on the field for two-a-day workouts Saturday.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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