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Darius visits, but doesn’t sign

Free agent strong safety Donovin Darius was given a grand tour Wednesday that included a meeting with owner Al Davis, but said he was leaving town without signing a contract.

“The Raiders made me feel welcome in every way,” Darius said by phone Wednesday night. “My wife and I were very pleased. We got to meet the coaching staff, meet Mr. Davis, and were very impressed. We have some decisions to make. We’ll pray on them, and check out all our options before we make a decision.”

The NFL Network reported Darius was visiting Wednesday, anticipating the Raiders would make a strong effort to sign him at the end of the day. Darius said he made it clear he wanted to be more deliberate with his career choice.

Darius, who turns 32 in August, was waived by Jacksonville after playing in just 12 games over the past two years because of injury. Darius suffered a torn ACL in 2005, playing in just two games. He missed the final six games of the 2006 season with a broken bone in his lower left leg, and also had a torn labrum.

Darius is Jacksonville’s all-time leading tackler with 858 stops and is one of the league’s most respected players on and off the field. He was named to commissioner Roger Goodell’s six-player advisory committee in the offseason, and for the previous four years was vice president of the NFL Player’s Association. He was the Jags’ player rep for the last four years _ interesting in light of Oakland’s recent penalty from the NFLPA for excessive contact during offseason practice.

It’s no slam dunk Darius would be worth the risk, despite his character. The Jaguars didn’t feel strongly enough about his ability to hold up to pay him the $3.5 million in salary he was due in 2007.

Nine seasons as an enforcer can prematurely age a strong safety. But experience and knowledge can count for a lot, as the 49ers learned when they cut loose Ronnie Lott and the Chargers discovered when they thought Rodney Harrison was finished.

The Raiders, in fact, visited with Harrison after he was cut by San Diego and made no serious effort to sign him.

The fact that Darius was in town at all is further evidence that Michael Huff, the safety drafted No. 7 overall in 2006, is not long for strong safety, while at the same time putting popular veteran Stuart Schweigert on notice regarding his future with the team.

Huff played at strong safety last season, but has the body-type and instincts that appear better suited to free safety. He said this offseason he hoped to bulk up to 206 pounds, which probably means he played the most physically demanding position in the secondary in the high 190s.

During minicamps and OTAs, Huff and Schweigert took turns playing the deep safety role, with the other moving into the box or shadowing the tight end. Huff said the safeties were staying on the same side, with the alignments determined by the positioning of the opposing tight end.

A team which has loaded up on cornerbacks in previous years, often at the expense of safeties, the Raiders moved Darnell Bing from linebacker to safety, acquired free agent Colin Branch and drafted Washington State’s Eric Frampton in the fifth round They join Huff, Schweigert, special teams ace Jarrod Cooper and returnee Hiram Eugene going into training camp.

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Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer