He missed four games due to injury, but still managed to impact the Broncos defense, playing behind DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. Mostly, Ray was Ware's backup on the weakside (Will), managing 20 tackles and four sacks.
Heading into year two, Ray has bulked up, in an effort to endure the rigors of the 16-game NFL season and to be more effective in his position.
“I think I put on almost eight pounds of muscle in this offseason," Ray said Thursday. "I combined that with a really strict diet. One thing that I struggled with as a rookie was having my meals and eating properly. You can’t just treat it like it’s college and go eat fast food. Everybody heard Von say you can’t eat cheese sticks and put that kind of fuel in a Ferrari. The biggest thing for me was treating my body as such."
It's not easy having to consume the amount of food an NFL player must to maintain their weight and muscle mass—let alone with high nutrition. Ray has managed to add eight pounds of muscle weight, without increasing his body fat.
Broncos fans get a little apprehensive when they hear one of their pass rushers has put on weight. Von Miller added 16 pounds of muscle during the 2013 offseason, and it led to his poorest statistical season and one cut short by a torn ACL. In Ray's case, his frame should be able to handle the weight well and help him better execute his position.
“During the season my lowest was 10 percent but I was only 234 pounds," he said. "It really wasn’t going to cut it at my position. Now I’m 245 with 10 percent [body fat]. I’ve put on more weight but kept my body fat at that level.”
Now in his second season, Ray believes he's a more complete player. And he's more comfortable, which should translate to better production on the field.
“I feel like I’m very comfortable," Ray said. "This offseason I’ve put in tons of work and just made myself more of a complete player. Last year, I was limited to playing a lot of WILL linebacker, which was majority rushing. But now, I can play the SAM just as freely as I played the WILL as far as drops and coverages and just knowing my assignment and what I’m supposed to do. It’s not really a rush and a panic now that I’m more relaxed and I’m more comfortable. I know where I’m supposed to be and how I’m supposed to play the technique.”
Ray is looking to make the quantum leap. Even though he was a good contributor to the Broncos' No. 1 defense as a rookie, you can tell Ray was slightly disappointed in his production. His injury had a lot to do with that. But he didn't take off much time following the Super Bowl and now, he believes he's ready to turn the corner.
“My expectations for myself going into this offseason—I went straight to work," he said. "I probably took a week-and-a-half off and went down to Florida and really just got it in. I wanted to be bigger, faster and stronger and when I came back be able to combine that with the knowledge that I have now. My expectation for myself—I set the bar high for myself last year and the bar hasn’t changed. I still want to dominate and be the best I can be for this team.”
We saw flashes of Shane Ray's potential as a rookie. It's good news to hear he's added weight, which will help him in the running game—an area he struggled with somewhat as a rookie. Rest assured, the Broncos pass rush will be just as fearsome in 2016 as it was last year. And Ray will have a lot to do with it .
Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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