ENGLEWOOD — Excuse Denver Broncos defensive lineman Dorsett Davis if his mind is elsewhere.
Football will take a backseat when a tree falls on your garage back home in Cleveland, Miss. Or when your father’s stranded in that house with heart problems. Or your sister was stuck in an apartment complex in Jackson, Miss., due to all the flooding.
Davis is trying to keep his focus and concentrate on making this team, but it’s difficult when your mind’s 1,200 miles away in Cleveland.
“My home ...” Davis began to say.
His words trailed off, thinking about the mess back home.
Thinking about how he can bring his family to Denver.
“We can’t get a flight now,” Davis said.
Davis can thank
Hurricane Katrina for this mess. The Category 5 hurricane that struck the Gulf Coast early Monday morning has left hundreds feared dead and vast flooding in its wake. New Orleans, in particular, was devastated by the hurricane.
According to Bill Lokey, an official with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Katrina is “the most significant natural disaster to hit the United States.”
After the hurricane hit Cleveland — just 330 miles north of ravaged Biloxi, Miss. — Davis received a call from his father, Larry. The 145-mph winds had blown a tree onto the garage.
“My dad was kind of a little alarmed,” said Davis, whose father recently had bypass surgery. “He’s OK. Everybody’s OK.”
But his father saying that and Davis actually seeing for himself was the reason he skipped practice Monday. Davis told coach Mike Shanahan he needed to fly back home, and he was excused from practice.
Davis caught a flight into Memphis, Tenn. — one of the last flights to land in the area — and drove two hours home through heavy rain and wind as Katrina was still in the area.
“Everything’s a mess down there,” Davis said. “Everything’s flooded.
“But I had to go down there and make sure everything was cool. Family is important.”
Davis wasn’t the only player worried about family in the path of Katrina’s destruction. Backup quarterback Matt Mauck went to school at Louisiana State and has friends and family near Baton Rouge.
“I can’t get a hold of everybody, but hopefully everyone is safe and was smart enough to get far enough away,” Mauck said.
After making sure his family was all right, Davis arrived back in town Tuesday morning, just in time for practice. Teammates and coaches were sympathetic to his situation.
“That’s a tough deal,” defensive line coach Andre Patterson said. “It’s real difficult for these guys to go through that because they’re all human beings.”
Davis has ridden an emotional roller coaster in the past week. On Friday at 9:42 p.m., Davis and his girlfriend had a 10 pound, 3 ounce baby boy named Daizion.
“Oh yeah, the baby’s keeping me up,” Davis said with a smile. “I get a chance to get away from this and go home and see that innocent face, and it puts everything into perspective for me.”
Coming into the season, Davis’s status was up in the air. He wasn’t a lock to make this team. Selected in the third round of the 2002 draft, Davis hasn’t lived up to expectations. The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Mississippi State product has yet to start a game or record a sack. He missed all of last season after tearing a ligament in his finger during training camp.
That was then and this is now. Davis is playing like a man possessed this season. He’s impressing the right people.
“He’s much more confident,” defensive coordinator Larry Coyer said. “It’s a combination of god-given talent and the expertise of his coach.”
The coach to whom Coyer refers is Patterson, who’s been a blessing for Davis since arriving in Denver this season. Patterson realized that not all defensive tackles are created equal. They come in different-sized bodies.
“I always try to teach guys techniques that fit their body style,” Patterson said. “As soon as I got him to reach out in his stance and get his body moving, it’s helped him be more explosive. We’re now seeing this big man cross the line of scrimmage.
“He’s big, explosive, powerful, wants to be good and is willing to work at it.”
The biggest difference to Davis is he now feels like everyone’s going in slow motion except for him.
“The game used to be fast; it’s not fast to me no more,” Davis said. “Everything has slowed down, and I’ve picked up my pace.”
While he’s picked up his play, that doesn’t necessarily translate into a roster spot.
“I’m kind of worried about the spot, but I’m not worried about the spot,” Davis said. “I figure if I better myself, everything else will work out.”
No matter what happens, Davis feels blessed — blessed that his family is all right. On the drive from Memphis to Cleveland on Monday, with the storm raging, all he could think about was his dad and sister. He’d lost his mom, Ora, to breast cancer his rookie season, and couldn’t stand the thought of anything happening the rest of his family.
“My family needed me,” Davis said. “I’m just happy they’re safe, and I’ll be more happy once it’s over.”