D.J. playing to a different beat

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – While fourth-year pro Dwayne Jarrett admits this just might be his last chance to prove he truly belongs in the NFL, rookie Brandon LaFell is just embarking on his first chance.

Yet, less than two months apart, Jarrett and LaFell will celebrate their 24th birthdays during the regular season.

"I got so drafted so young. I had just turned 20," Jarrett said. "I was kind of like a teenager in the NFL."

Now, however, Jarrett said he's finally left any lingering immaturity behind, freeing him to look more like a promising young wide receiver rather than a player veering dangerously close to the wrong side of a crossroads moment in his football career.

"There has definitely been a growth process that happened between the three years that I have been here," Jarrett said. "I had to get around that learning curve."

Jarrett is getting a fresh start, one more chance to seize a significant role opposite Steve Smith, and first-year wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert is among those who likes what he sees so far.

"When I got here, they were telling me about all the guys, and when they got to D.J. they said he's been a little inconsistent," Tolbert said. "I said, 'I'll work with him, and we'll see what he's going to be from this day forward.'

"He's done a great job up to this point. Hopefully, he just keeps it up."

During a team period at practice Sunday afternoon that focused on the two-minute offense, with one snap left before the clock would expire, Jarrett steamed up the right sideline, found a spot in the back corner of the end zone and turned to snag a high ball delivered on time and on target by Matt Moore.

"That's a touchdown, in case you didn't know," Smith smugly proclaimed from the sideline.

It's the kind of play that Tolbert believes Jarrett was built for, the kind of play that he made many times during his record-setting career at  Southern California that helped make him a second-round draft pick in 2007.

It's also the kind of play he hasn't really made much at the pro level.

"D.J. has such a big body that a lot of times he doesn't have to be open to be open," Tolbert said. "He's so big, so tall, so long that a DB could be right there on him but he has the reach and the body to make himself open.

"In practice, they'll try to reach around him to knock balls out, but they can't get to the ball. I'd rather have him separate from the defender, but if he doesn't, that's not all so bad with D.J. in particular because he has such a big body."

This training camp, Jarrett's body isn't quite as big as it has been. He's been playing at nearly 220 pounds, but for this crucial camp, he decided to see how he could perform at around 210.

"It has helped me out a lot as far as being more explosive off the ball," Jarrett said. "I didn't fully understand what it took -- like the offseason workouts and watching my diet and just the little things of becoming a pro -- but once I got it, I took it and ran with it."

Jarrett knows there's still lots to be done. After catching a school-record 216 balls and a Pac-10 record 41 touchdown receptions in 38 college games, he has 33 catches and one touchdown in 29 pro games.

Sure, Jarrett might only be 23, but he understands that the clock is ticking.

"You always have that in the back of your mind," Jarrett said. "I really can't control that. I just have to go out there and do what I have to do and make my plays and do whatever I have to do to make the team.

"I think I took a lot of low blows coming in my first of couple years because I did have a lot of downs. I've just fought through everything and the negativity and tried to always stay positive and stay focused on what I have to do to become a better player."

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