ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Shane Ray has had more than his fair share of mentors. In just two NFL seasons, Ray has already played alongside two of football’s all-time great pass rushers.
Von Miller, the sometimes goofy but always dominant outside linebacker who led the team to a Super Bowl 50 championship in Ray’s rookie season has taken the fellow former first round draft pick under his wing. Being around Miller, Ray says, has given him inspiration throughout his still young career.
“I always say that Von’s leadership kind of goes, not unnoticed, but a lot of people just don’t really talk about it—the things that he does,” Ray said. “I can say that his critiquing of me and (OLB Shaquil) Shaq (Barrett) and coaching us—DeMarcus was also a mentor—Von was like that tough big brother….I could say my eating habits and my wanting to get a chef and get my body to a certain body fat percentage and all those things came from Von. He did it on a whole different level—245-250 pounds with seven percent body fat who can bend like no other. I started trying to figure things out like, ‘Hey Von, how do I get my ankles more flexible? How do I do this?’ He’s always trying to help guys.”
With the retirement of veteran linebacker DeMarcus Ware earlier this offseason, Miller’s role as a leader in the locker room is more important now than at any other point in his career. Where Miller has been the Luke Skywalker in the Broncos in the last few years, Ware was their Jedi master—an ever present leader in the locker room, even when he wasn’t producing on the field. Ray saw that firsthand.
“DeMarcus’ leadership goes such a long way. Everything that he’s taught me the past couple years—all of the opportunities I had to learn stuff from him and see things from a first-ballot Hall of Famer’s perspective is a huge blessing. Not a lot of guys get to come into the league and have guys like that that are also willing to teach like DeMarcus. It’s very bitter sweet for me. His presence in the locker room as a mentor and as a big brother is hard to replace. At the same time, this is how business goes. This is how life goes. It’s time for me to step p and handle my business and take everything that he taught me and apply it to the field.”
Replacing him will be more than a one man job. Miller, on top of his role as the best player on the team, will be asked to step into an increased leadership role as well. Ray, meanwhile, will be asked to step up on the field and replace the actual statistical production Ware leaves behind.
As a Bronco, Ware recorded 21.5 sacks over three seasons. That averages out to a little over seven sacks per year. That’s certainly a high standard. However, Ray said his goals are even higher. In a press conference Wednesday, the Mizzou alum said he’s planning to more than double Ware’s production in his first full season as a starter.
“Nobody can honestly stop me from getting one sack a game,” Ray said confidently. “I look at that in the NFL and honestly I feel the same way. Nobody can block me for a whole game. One sack a game for me is equivalent to 16 games—that’s 16 sacks. That could lead the league, not to mention playoffs or any of that stuff. That’s how I break stuff down for me and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Only time will tell whether Ray is able to live up to his own sky-high expectations. However, it’s clear that, entering his third NFL season, Shane Ray has evolved into a confident and dynamic defensive threat.