Although a decision is four months away, Miami Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson made Kirby Dar Dar the clear favorite to be the No. 2 starting wide receiver.
That's the same Dar Dar who tore his right anterior cruciate ligament in the first scrimmage of training camp in July.
The same Dar Dar who wasn't even a receiver when he joined the Dolphins in 1995 as an undrafted free agent.
The same Dar Dar who doesn't have a catch in the NFL and was cut before the 1996 season, then re-signed only after the Dolphins allowed a punt return for a touchdown in their final preseason game.
It has been an odd journey, but Dar Dar has a way of smiling through it. He seems forever on the verge of a grin. Forgive him if he is beaming today after Johnson's comments Thursday on the final day of a three-day quarterback school.
"Right now, if we had to play a game tomorrow, O.J. McDuffie and Dar Dar would be the starting wide receivers," Johnson said.
Before Thursday, Dar Dar was best known as either as a flyer on punt coverage or for showing his quickness in blocking punts.
"He is a receiver," Johnson said. "Right now, I'm not even thinking about him in terms of being a special-teams player."
Essentially, Dar Dar has moved ahead of players with far more significant resumes: Yatil Green, Charles Jordan, Lamar Thomas, Larry Shannon and Brian Manning.
"Like Coach Johnson said, if he puts me in there, I feel like I'll make some plays," Dar Dar said.
Nine months ago, Dar Dar was thinking about tiny steps in rehabilitation, wondering how he could make it from lying flat on a table in the training room to just standing up on his own.
"That first day was probably the longest," Dar Dar said. "When I was lying there, (trainer) Ryan Vermillion came in and told me that each day you have to take a different step just to get your leg healthy.
"I was just determined not to let this stop me. I was just going to put it behind me and play again no matter what."
Vermillion said Dar Dar's attitude was part of the key.
"With a lot of guys, they're down in the dumps, feeling sorry for themselves, like "How could this happen to me?' " Vermillion said. "When you're talking about a long rehabilitation, something that is a slow, day-by-day grind, that attitude is hard to overcome a lot of the time.
"With Kirby, that was never an issue. He was always so positive, so focused on getting back."
Six months of rehabilitation later, Dar Dar _ a standout at Tampa Jefferson who marriedNanette, his longtime girlfriend and mother of his two sons, April 5 _ is running with abandon. He worked as the single receiver and the receiver on the side with the tight end this week. He had the look of a real receiver. That, in itself, is impressive.
"When I first got here and they moved me to receiver, I was way in over my head," said Dar Dar, a running back at Syracuse. "But I was lucky to have a lot of great receivers around me to learn from, like Irving Fryar, Gary Clark and O.J."
Brent Smith, who spent most of minicamp and quarterback school as the starting LG, is expected to have surgery in the next few days for a lower abdominal muscle problem.