Here in Broncos country – home of the Super Bowl 50 champs and outdated No. 18 jerseys – Sacramento is well represented.
Three former Sacramento State players – linebackers Todd Davis and Darnell Sankey and offensive lineman Lars Hanson – are participating in the Broncos’ training camp. Also on hand is running back Devontae Booker, a fourth-round draft pick from Utah who attended Grant High School and American River College and already has earned praise from coach Gary Kubiak.
Two Broncos coaches also have Hornets connections: quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp and offensive-line coach Clancy Barone.
“Oh, Sac State boys,” Davis said with a smile Saturday. “(We) Hornets got to stick together.”
He definitely showed us what hard work looks like. But I noticed he’s a lot more vocal now.
Darnell Sankey, on fellow Broncos linebacker and former Sac State teammate Todd Davis
Davis, who went undrafted in 2014 and was cut four times before joining the Broncos, is expected to start for the NFL’s top-rated defense in 2015. Two years ago, the Inglewood native was released by the New Orleans Saints. Now he’s a Super Bowl champion.
“Huge chip (on my shoulder),” Davis said. “My chip just got bigger every time (I was cut). Now it’s just sitting there on my shoulder, and it’s huge.”
He’s tried to pass that motivational message to Sankey, who was a sophomore at Sac State when Davis led the Big Sky Conference in tackles as a senior. Sankey said Davis was quieter then – more of a leader by example.
In Denver, Sankey saw a new Davis.
“He definitely showed us what hard work looks like,” Sankey said, referring to their college days. “But I noticed he’s a lot more vocal now.”
The similarities between the two linebackers are extensive. Neither was heavily recruited out of high school. At Sac State, they dominated Football Championship Subdivision offenses, with Davis becoming the second-leading tackler in Hornets history. Sankey finished his career fourth on the school’s all-time tackle list. Last season, Sankey made 153 tackles despite playing the entire season with a cast on his broken right hand.
“Darnell just grinds,” Sac State linebackers coach Tyler Almond said. “You don’t have to motivate him; he’s already motivated. He takes care of business.”
The two fell somewhat out of touch after Davis left Sacramento, but when Sankey signed with Denver just two days before training camp began, his former teammate took him under his wing. At camp, Sankey kneels next to Davis on the sideline, soaking up advice.
Davis said he and Sankey watch film together, and he’s tried to get the younger linebacker adjusted to NFL speed and defensive schemes. Assignments and alignments are the toughest to pick up in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ system.
“(Davis) definitely helps me a lot because I’m so far behind,” Sankey said. “I’ve only been here for a couple days and everybody else has been here for OTAs. I’m not using that as an excuse at all, but I’m behind and I understand that.”
Sankey arrived in Denver on July 26 and missed nearly all of the Broncos’ offseason training. His expectations are realistic, and he would be happy to make the practice squad.
(Davis’) work ethic is one of a kind, and if you want to be successful, you’ve got to watch and apply that to yourself.
Lars Hanson, on Broncos linebacker Todd Davis
Almond said Sankey’s greatest strengths are work ethic and grit. Hornets coaches had to tell him to take it easy after knee surgery his junior year, and he overcame his broken hand last year to become one of the nation’s top tacklers.
And if he doesn’t make the team? Well, as Sankey always says, “Delays are not denials.”
Sankey’s college roommate, Hanson, signed with the Broncos in the spring after going undrafted, and like Sankey, the lineman hopes to make the team in some capacity. Hanson, who grew up a Broncos fan, has seen firsthand from Davis what it takes to make it in the NFL. A few weeks ago, Hanson went to Davis’ home to hang out.
“Every 10 minutes, he’d get on the ground and do some planks, get on the ground and do some pushups,” Hanson said. “After the TV show, he went down to the basement and did some sprints, started doing some ropes, ladders.
“(Davis’) work ethic is one of a kind, and if you want to be successful, you’ve got to watch and apply that to yourself.”