While Doss continued living away from his family for all of high school and college, he said that his bond with his mother grew stronger.

"You can't explain how hard it is to go away from your family when all you want to do is help your family," he said. "But I think we knew that in the end it would be better, and that pulled us together."

As a fourth-round pick for a team with solid depth at receiver, Doss knows he'll have to do all he can to earn the sort of second contract that might set his family up long term.

While waiting for the lockout to end, Doss is living in Indianapolis near high school friends. Though he has been working to rehab at an athletic training facility, he still lifts in his high school gym and runs routes on the field outside.

At night, he studies the Ravens' playbook. Flacco met with Doss and two other recent draft picks — Maryland's Torrey Smith and Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor — when the players convened in Towson, and urged them to concentrate on learning formations and specific routes. Trying to understand the entire offense wouldn't be fruitful without film to watch and coaches to consult.

Certainly the mental side of the game will pose an early challenge for Doss, who played in a simplified, up-tempo offense at Indiana. In the NFL, he'll need to read and react more often. And though he's probably faster than he's shown recently — he ran the 40-yard dash in about 4.5 seconds a few months after surgery — he projects as a prototypical possession receiver in the NFL. At 6 feet 3 and 210 pounds, he's also trying to gain weight so he can improve his blocking and play a role in special teams.

"I'm just blessed to make it this far," he said, "and I'm going to do what I have to do."

He knows it won't always come easily.

When doubt creeps in, he raises his left hand slightly and reads the tattoo that encircles his wrist.

"My Rock," it says, "Nikki Doss."