- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Maryland tight end Vernon Davis has always been the big tease. A hardbody with enough potential to look like a sure NFL player, his production never quite matched the promise over two seasons.

A breakout season looms, though. The offense has been geared for high-percentage passes that fit the junior’s strength. His H-back blocking duties have been traded for more receiving routes.

This may be the year long awaited for the former star at Dunbar High School in the District. It could lead the Terrapins to a bowl and Davis to the NFL.

“I’m real, real close,” he said. “I have come a long way, in terms of getting bigger, faster and becoming a student of the game. I still can’t believe how far I have come.”

Davis has always been a prime physical talent. Some NFL players probably would trade bodies with the 258-pounder with anvils for arms, washboard abs and a 6-foot-3 frame that belies his speed that separates him easily from linebackers.

“Whoever said all men are created equal didn’t see Vernon,” offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe said. “I can’t remember being around a player like him. He’s a guy you look at and say, ‘My God!’ ”

Davis set four team records for weight lifting by tight ends, including a 460-pound bench press, plus a 4.41-second 40-yard dash and 40-inch vertical leap. Davis’ old practice partner was defensive end Shawne Merriman, who went 12th in the NFL Draft last spring after the tandem battled on even terms regularly during blocking drills.

Certainly there have been moments of greatness. Davis caught five passes for 104 yards at Virginia last season and tied a school mark of three touchdowns at Duke for 101 yards. He caught six in a 20-17 upset of Florida State, setting up one score with a 33-yarder that ended with him hurdling over two Seminoles to the 2-yard line. Davis led Maryland with 441 yards on 27 catches last season.

But those games may be forgotten if Davis shakes loose this season. He’s eager to lead a young team readying for Navy on Sept. 3 after a disappointing 5-6 year. Davis knows he has to pace an offense that includes a new quarterback, tailback and few experienced linemen and receivers.

“We have a lot to prove,” Davis said. “A lot of people put us down, saying we’re not going to do that, but I don’t listen to that. After last season, I would think everyone would want to come out and do better than they did. We’re going to come out and shock everybody.”

Offensive tackle Stephon Heyer senses a deeper maturity in Davis as evidenced by better route running and a more serious tone throughout practice.

“Some guys come off their high school careers as stars. Vernon needed to learn the plays,” Heyer said. “It’s not high school where you throw the ball and run down the field. You have more responsibilities.”

Davis also will return kickoffs this season. The Terps relish his chances in the open field.

“We’re just trying to get the ball in his hands,” coach Ralph Friedgen said.

A picture of Cleveland tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. remains taped to the inside of Davis’ locker. However, Winslow’s off-field troubles no longer leave Davis starstruck over his one-time idol.

“I can’t stand his attitude,” Davis said, “but as far as his playing on the field with the ability he has, I like that.”

Notes — Running back T.D. Callahan left practice yesterday with a knee injury. … Maryland athletics balanced its budget for the 11th straight year.

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