The Onus Is On Broncos Linebacker Shane Ray To Fill The Void Left By DeMarcus Ware's Injury

With DeMarcus Ware set to miss the next 4-5 weeks, the onus is on second-year OLB Shane Ray to step up. Is Ray ready to produce?

The “next man up” coaching ethos will be put to the test early for the 2-0 Denver Broncos. During the Week 2 win, outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware suffered a broken foreman making a sack on Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck and will be forced out of action for at least the next month.

Denver boasts a group of talented rush linebackers. Among them is second-year player Shane Ray, who looks to get the first crack at replacing the future Hall-of-Famer in the starting lineup this Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

The former Missouri Tiger recently spoke about his new role as a starter. “For me, I just think last and some of this year has been me being more of a spot player, even though I’ve been getting a lot of reps," Ray said. "Now, I’m taking the role as a starter for a while. I’m just continuing to do what I’ve been doing, working hard and getting better. I’ve been playing well, but I have to keep taking it to another level.”

Injuries are part of football and its illogical to think that a key player won’t go down at some point in the year. No one player can replace the void that Ware leaves—both on the field with his ability to get to the quarterback, even at the advanced age of 34—or with his veteran leadership he brings to the huddle and on the sideline.

Ray also alluded to players like Shaquil Barrett and Dekoda Watson being able to step in and play well if called upon and that the injuries that befell Ware last year made the unit more prepared heading into this season. Gary Kubiak said Wednesday that Watson is "fixin' to play a lot". 

Although Barrett played well last season in spurts and Watson came out of nowhere during the 2016 preseason to claim a spot on the groster, Ray will get every opportunity to prove that he was worthy of the Broncos trading up in the 2015 NFL Draft to select him. Ray has shown improvement from last year, most notably in run support, but he will need to step up his play even more now in the wake of Ware’s absence.

Ray spoke about preparing like a starter.

“This is what we’ve been trained for," he said. "This is what I’ve been doing all offseason. With DeMarcus being out, I took a lot of reps with the one’s and I think that helped me grow as a player at that time period. Now with the added reps on top of what I’ve been getting, I think I’m ready. I’m well prepared, well coached and I’m going to do the best job that I can.”

In the foreseeable future, the Denver defense will see more double teams going in the direction of Von Miller, as opposing offensive coordinators won’t have to be as concerned with someone like Ware on the other side of the line. continuing to be stout in run support, Ray will have the most impact on the game if he is able to beat one-on-one blocking against less capable pass-protecting left tackles and get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

The Bengals are a team that is short on playmakers catching the ball, as A.J. Green remains the lone holdover from a wide receiver unit that lost deep threat Marvin Jones to Detroit and the capable Mohamed Sanu to Atlanta during the offseason.

With Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert still on the shelf, it is imperative that the Denver pass rushers, including Ray, get to quarterback Andy Dalton early and often and aid a No Fly Zone secondary that hopes to contain Green.

Once Ware knew he'd be out of action for a considerable amount of time, he gave advice to his understudy. Ray shared the insight that his mentor gave him.

“Just relax and being loose, not thinking so much," Ray said. "Last year, I was thinking a lot and not reacting. Now I’m more comfortable. I can make plays off athleticism, not having to do as much thinking. Now it’s just continuing to do that, being me, have fun, play ball and do my job.”

The Broncos go into their first road game banged up from last week’s win. If players like Shane Ray can produce at around the same level of a DeMarcus Ware, it’ll go a long way towards bringing another victory back home to Denver. 

Adam Uribes is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @auribes37.

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