Hard work yields plays for Dinkins


Three years ago as New York Giants head coach, Jim Fassel would arrive at 6:30 a.m. to his training camp office, where he would be greeted by Darnell Dinkins.

Interested in watching some tape, Dinkins was a fourth-string quarterback with no chance of making the team.

But it was an opinion Dinkins did not share. It's that same attitude that allowed him to persevere through two position changes (from quarterback to free safety to tight end), two stints on NFL practice squads and one season playing semi-pro football.

These days in Ravens training camp, Dinkins is still coming to practice early and staying late, although for the first time in his career, he's no longer in danger of getting cut.

Dinkins, 28, is filling in as the starting tight end in Todd Heap's absence, evidence that persistence pays off. Even when Heap has recovered from offseason shoulder and ankle surgeries, which could be as early as next week, Dinkins is expected to play a major role in the Ravens' two tight-end alignments this season.

"When I'm done with coaching and look back on all the players who worked hard, he'll be among the ones at the top of that list," said Fassel, who is now the Ravens' offensive coordinator.

If not for Fassel, Dinkins' hard work might have gone unnoticed.

When injuries struck the Ravens' tight ends last season, pro personnel director George Kokinis asked Fassel about Dinkins. Fassel couldn't have given a stronger endorsement.

Dinkins was signed to the practice squad in early October and was promoted to the active roster four weeks later. His biggest impact came Nov. 21 against the Dallas Cowboys when he caught three passes and scored his first career touchdown.

Over the final nine games of the season, he had started four times and finished with nine catches for 94 yards.

"What motivates me is I know what the real world is like," Dinkins said. "Some guys don't understand."

After being a three-year starting safety for the University of Pittsburgh, Dinkins couldn't immediately catch on in the NFL. Using his degree in administration of justice, Dinkins worked 18 months as a juvenile probation officer for Allegheny County in Pittsburgh.

His days were filled with helping the neediest, at-risk children. One time at a school, he was told to watch his truck or it would be set on fire.

Three years removed from that work, Dinkins said he wants to return to helping children after his time in the NFL is done.

"It really opened my eyes," Dinkins said. "If I can utilize where I am now to help others in the future, that would be great."

Dinkins brings that same effort onto the football field.

At 6 feet 2, 255 pounds, he's a physical blocker who once held his own in practice against Giants defensive end Michael Strahan. In the passing game, he's most effective in short spaces and is a big target for quarterbacks over the middle.

Dinkins does need to improve his route running. And like many big-frame players, he needs to become better at adjusting to catch low passes.

But getting Dinkins to work has never been a problem.

"I think the biggest thing is he's a hungry guy," tight ends coach Wade Harman said. "He knows what it's like to be on the other side of the ropes. He likes this side and wants to stay there. He's willing to work at it and do whatever it takes to make himself better."

It's that determination that has taken him from being a fringe player in this league to an example for the rest of his teammates.

"What he's proven is if you got ability and you work at it, you're going to make it," Fassel said. "He's a true success story."

NOTES: Jamal Lewis is scheduled to meet with a probation officer today in Baltimore, which will complete his federal drug sentence and allow him to report to the Ravens. Team officials have long indicated that the starting running back likely would be placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list, but they expect him to be ready for the regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts. ...

After having their first day off from camp yesterday, players return to practice at 9:30 a.m. The Ravens will have two-a-day practices today and tomorrow before scaling back to one workout for the three days leading up to their preseason opener Saturday in Atlanta.

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