Despite winning a Super Bowl in his rookie year, outside linebacker Shane Ray was slightly disappointed by his rookie campaign.
Don't misunderstand. It's not that Ray is taking a World Championship for granted—an accomplishment most tenured NFL veterans covet but never attain—he simply feels like he could have been better at an individual level.
The jump from collegiate life to the professional ranks isn't easy. For Ray, not only did he have to learn how to be a pro and assimilate a sophisticated defensive scheme, he also had to live up to the expectations—both internal and external—of being a first round pick, while playing behind two All-Pro players.
Suffering a sprain to his MCL in Week 6 didn't help matters. It caused him to miss weeks of action. But, Ray still contributed to the NFL's No. 1 defense, adding four notches to the Denver Broncos league-leading 52 team sacks. He detailed some of his rookie struggles back in May.
“Coming in and dealing with an injury and having to really make the advancement of footwork and doing things, but kind of being behind the curve," Ray said. "I felt like I was a little bit behind. I had to work extra hard to try and catch up to where I felt like I needed to be."
Ray may not have filled up the stat sheet in the postseason, but he played a role in Denver's defensive dismantling of the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game, and the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1669443-shane-ray-puts-on-offseas... Looking ahead to his second year, Ray has added eight pounds of muscle to fill out his 6-foot-3, 245-pound frame. DeMarcus Ware took less money and a reduced role to return to the Broncos for a third season.
Ray is going to see the field more on early downs than he did as a rookie, as Ware will primarily be reserved as a third down pass-rush specialist. The extra snaps should manifest in additional sacks, as he recently told Sportscaster Drea Avent.
(See 2:39 in the video above)
"I think with the added playing time that I'm going to get, with helping keeping DeMarcus fresh, and just this new level I feel like I've gotten to as a player, I don't see anything less than 10 sacks," Ray said.
With an increased rigor in film study and a full season of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips's aggressive 3-4 system under his belt, we could see Ray take a major leap in his development. As a rookie, he was deployed mostly as the weakside (WILL) rush linebacker, behind Ware, but he now feels just as confident playing on the strongside (SAM), too.
That versatility could pay dividends for Ray. The Broncos drafted him to eventually replace Ware. 2016 is Ray's opportunity to prove to the front office and coaching staff that he's the man for the job.
Below is Part II of Drea Avent's interview with Shane Ray.
Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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