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Recovering from injury, Darius should be ready for training camp

Donovin Darius

Darius

Nine-year veteran strong safety Donovin Darius, released by the Jacksonville Jaguars last month, signed with the Oakland Raiders on Tuesday, the first team with whom he visited as a free agent and a club that pursued him ardently.

The three-year contract is worth $7 million.

"He will bring us immediate competition in the secondary," first-year coach Lane Kiffin said in a statement released by the team. "Donovin exemplifies hard work and dedication to the game. ... He will be a great fit in our team's philosophy."

The leading tackler in Jaguars history, Darius is recovering from a broken right ankle that limited him to 10 games in 2006 but should be ready for the start of training camp. He also visited with the Buffalo Bills and several other teams indicated interest as well, but Darius was intrigued by the Raiders from the start.

Oakland has two young starting safeties in Michael Huff and Stuart Schweigert, second- and fourth-year veterans, respectively. The Raiders do not delineate strong and free safeties in their system, but the skills set of Huff, the team's first-round choice in 2006, is more closely associated with those of a strong safety.

That might conflict a bit with Darius, who has played strong safety his entire career, but the Raiders will compensate now that they have acquired him.

One advantage the Raiders had over other suitors was that Kiffin and Darius have ties from the past. Kiffin served as a quality control coach for the Jaguars in 2000, working primarily with the secondary, in Darius' third season in the NFL. Darius studied the Oakland defense after his release by the Jaguars and was impressed by the aggressive scheme that it featured by coordinator Rob Ryan.

Despite winning only two games in 2006, the Oakland defense statistically ranked No. 3 in the league.

"I am very optimistic about the change that is taking place within the team," Darius said. "I look forward to being a part of the Silver and Black. I think it's a great opportunity."

Darius, 31, was unable to participate in Jacksonville's offseason program this spring as he continued his recovery, and he also suffered a slight calf problem. Darius played in only two games in 2005 before his season was ended by a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The fact he appeared in a total of 12 games the past two seasons and suffered fairly significant injuries didn't seem to dissuade teams in need of safety help from considering him.

A first-round choice in the 1998 draft, Darius became an immediate starter with the Jaguars. The former Syracuse star appeared in 115 games, all starts, and had a franchise-record 846 tackles, along with two sacks, 14 interceptions, 35 passes defensed, eight forced fumbles and six recoveries.

Noted more as a run defender early in his career, when Darius' pass coverage skills were viewed as a liability and he was more effective playing close to the line of scrimmage, he became far better on pass defense in recent seasons. Only twice in nine seasons, though, did Darius have more than three interceptions in a season. He totaled 100 or more tackles in six different campaigns.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.