Rookie RB Sankey prepping for lost time in Titans camp
MAY 23, 2014 4:34p ET
Because of NFL rules, the second-round draft pick can't fully join the Titans until final exams are finished in June, meaning the team's heir apparent to departed running back Chris Johnson will start his pro career behind fellow incoming classmates.
By the time the team's mandatory minicamp convenes in mid-June, Sankey may miss all three OTAs (organized team activities). That's 10 full days of classroom work and on-the-field learning of an offense that is expected to feature him and veteran Shonn Greene as lead running backs.
"It's really, really crucial," Sankey said of what he absorbed at rookie minicamp, "especially because I have to go back after these three short days. So, I'm just really trying to grasp everything right now, trying to pick up as much of the offense as I can. It's really important for me to pick up these plays, since I won't be able to continue on here in Nashville after these three days."
While the five other drafted Titans, 14 signed undrafted free agents and 20 tryout invitees were able to join the team the week leading up to last weekend's minicamp, Sankey could arrive only the night before the first day of rookie minicamp on Friday.
"It will set him back for now, no question, but we have all of camp," Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "So, it won't affect him before we play a preseason game. It certainly won't affect him as we go through the preseason."
Last month, the Titans released Johnson, the team's first-round draft pick in 2008, after six years as the team's leading running back. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his six seasons, including 2,006 in 2009, but he was released when he declined to renegotiate a contract that was to pay him $8 million the next two seasons and $6 million in 2016.
That left the Titans in the market for a running back to complement Greene, who was injured much of last season and rushed for only 295 yards after eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark the previous two seasons with the Jets. The Titans also signed free agent Dexter McCluster, whose main strength is his versatility in a variety of offensive sets.
By the time the Titans' second-round pick at No. 54 overall rolled around two weeks ago today, they made Sankey the first running back drafted -- it is the latest the first running back has been taken in any draft during the modern draft era.
"I think it is a really great opportunity," Sankey said of stepping into a starting role. "I'm really just ready to get out here and compete with everyone and try to earn the job. Really, I think I can just get better each and every day at one thing, and that's going to be my mentality throughout the whole camp."
What the Titans saw in Sankey was a player with versatility, which had become a theme for the team throughout free agency and the draft. Last season at Washington, he rushed for 1,870 yards (fourth-most in the FBS) with 20 touchdowns, while also posting 304 receiving yards on 28 catches. Sankey entered the NFL Draft after being named second-team All-American in 2013 as a junior. Two seasons ago, he rushed for 1,439 and 16 touchdowns
"It's really just the beginning," Whisenhunt said, "but you can see the movement skills that you like. He's a smart guy. He's one of the ones who came in (Thursday) night. He performed well out there ... without much time to process everything. Good hands -- saw that a couple of times today. So far, so good."
Not that the Titans will send Sankey back to college unprepared. For the first time, all Titans players this year were given an iPad that carries the overall playbook, plus specifics for each player and the team's systems in general.
"The biggest adjustment right now is just the playbook," Sankey said of going from college to pro. "There is a lot of content that goes into it, and it's really important for me to pick up the pass protections and the checkdowns. The quicker I do that, the better. (The iPad) has every last thing in the playbook on it. It's definitely something I will continue to look at."
While it's not the best-case scenario -- having a rookie that will be depended upon heavily miss so much offseason work -- Whisenhunt feels comfortable that Sankey will be able to handle the initial load. He'll then have to get caught up quickly when he returns to the team. But for the first time, the Titans players in general and Sankey in particular have the luxury of modern science to have instant access to anything and everything the coaches desire.
"That's the value of having that iPad," Whisenhunt said, "where we can send him that information and send him the video, and hopefully that can help. He seems like an intelligent young man, so I think he'll be able to handle a good portion of it."