ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Jeff Holland takes his inspiration from Von Miller on the practice field and Phillip Lindsay in the locker room.
The former Auburn star met Miller while preparing for the NFL draft. When his name wasn’t called, he quickly signed with Denver so he could learn from the best — with lessons thrown in from two other first-rounders, rookie Bradley Chubb and Shane Ray, along with Shaq Barrett and pass rush consultant DeMarcus Ware.
“Being around those guys, it’s like stealing,” Holland said Friday after he was promoted from the practice squad with Barrett (hip flexor) out for two to four weeks.
“Von, I pick his brain. D-Ware, I take stuff from him. It’s an honor to be around those guys and get taught by those guys. A lot of guys don’t have that opportunity.”
Holland found fortune yet again when he got a locker next to Lindsay , whose 780 rushing yards are the most by an undrafted rookie through 11 games since the 1970 merger.
“Being undrafted, we got a certain chip on our shoulder that every play we’ve got to play hard because it’s something that somebody nearly took from us, a team might not have called us,” Holland said. “Being that guy means we’ve got to go out and play every play like it’s our last.”
In Holland’s case, his next play will be his first.
Holland signed with the Broncos on May 1 and shined in training camp, collecting two sacks and recovering a fumble in the preseason. After failing to make the 53-man roster, the former All-SEC first-team selection signed with the Broncos practice squad.
“My agent was saying a lot of teams contacted him but you know I got so close with my guys in my room, I had to come back,” Holland said. “Leaving here would have been bad. It’s a good fit for me. The guys here, man, the coaches, I fell in love with it, so I wouldn’t want to leave here for nothing.”
Holland could be active when the Broncos (5-6) visit the Bengals (5-6) in Cincinnati, where dual-threat quarterback Jeff Driskel is making his first career start.
Holland said he’s eager to join the likes of Lindsay, Chris Harris Jr., Todd Davis and Case Keenum, all of whom have made a name for themselves after going undrafted.
“I’ve played in some big games. When it comes down to it, I’m a football player,” Holland said. “I love the game of football and I’m just ready to show them what I’ve got.”
Nose tackle Domata Peko faced his former team, the Bengals, in Denver last year and this weekend he’s going back to the city where he spent his first 11 NFL seasons.
“It means the world to me to go back and I’ve definitely got to play well,” Peko said. “Being somewhere for 11 seasons, over a decade, and to go back for the first time — I know last year they came up here, but it’s going to be different being on the opposite sideline.
“It’s definitely going to be emotional because I’ve got a chip on my shoulder from them. I’m definitely going to go out there and do my job.”
Peko said he still harbors ill feelings about the Bengals moving on from him last year because he had to uproot his family.
“Now I’m here, I thank God that I’m here and my teammates embrace me. They welcomed me with open arms here, and the organization has loved me, especially Broncos Country, they’ve really got my back,” Peko said. “I can’t wait to go to Cincinnati with my team, go up there and keep this rolling.”
Among the Broncos donning colorful cleats for the league’s “My Cause, My Cleats” initiative in December is second-year receiver-returner River Cracraft, who’s honoring his friend and Washington State teammate Tyler Hilinski , who killed himself in January.
“It was kind of like a first instinct,” said Cracraft, whose red-orange and blue cleats promote Hilinski’s Hope, the foundation Tyler’s family created in his memory to support programs destigmatizing mental illness.
He said it’ll mean a lot to wear them in a game, “if not for anyone else for me to represent my guy, at the very least. I’m hoping it’ll catch a few eyes.”
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