ENGLEWOOD—Through it all Shane Ray has been perhaps the most engaging player in the Denver Broncos’ locker room.
Hurt with a blown-out left wrist since the first day of training camp, Ray has nevertheless been available pretty much every day to expound on his team, or his life theories.
He has discussed, and tweeted on subjects of Einstein’s theory of relativity, the speed of light, and the relationship of how shifting tectonic plates validate dinosaur fossils as “real because you couldn’t possibly bury them that deep.’’
A big mind like this who majored in agriculture at the University of Missouri is also a good source on the state of the lopsided Broncos – strong on defense, inept on offense -- even if his wrist injury has not allowed him to participate on the field through their first six games.
“A lot of people think that when it’s not going the way it’s supposed to go on one side of the ball that the team automatically has some type of friction or something,’’ Ray said in a sit-down interview with 9news this week. “I don’t see it being anything like that. I see it as we’re trying to encourage our brothers and our teammates to be better.
“Because as a whole we have to be better. We haven’t played our best football. Offensively, we’ve turned the ball over a lot, but defensively we can do so much more. We need to create turnovers and we’re not doing that like we were last year. And that’s a huge formula for the team as a whole.
“The locker room vibe, I’m not going to say it’s down, it’s not where we want it to be because we’re even. We’re not over .500. I don’t think in two years we’ve been that with the Broncos. So, it’s more of a sense of urgency and everybody knows this is a big need for us, this win.’’
Ray returns this week and will start at outside linebacker against his hometown team, the Kansas City Chiefs, on Monday night at Arrowhead Stadium. (6:30 kickoff, Channel 20).
The Broncos are 3-3, coming off consecutive losses to what was then the 0-5 New York Giants and 2-4 Los Angeles Chargers. The Chiefs are 5-2, but they, too, have lost two in a row.
The Broncos’ slump seems worse, though, because they scored just 10 and zero points in their two losses. The Chiefs remain one of the league’s exciting teams because they have the NFL’s best running back in rookie Kareem Hunt, quarterback in veteran Alex Smith, and multipurpose threat in Tyreek Hill.
The Broncos have committed 12 offensive turnovers; the Chiefs just 1 – none since Hunt fumbled away Kansas City’s first offensive play of the year.
Ray arrives just in time. The pass rush is often the key to creating turnovers as its movement that can cause some panic, not to mention a fumble. Ray is good at rushing the quarterback. The Broncos’ first-round draft pick in 2015, he had 8.0 sacks as the backup to DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller last season.
“When you look at their offense they’re running the ball really well,’’ said Ray, who will be officially activated on the Broncos’ 53-man roster the morning of the Monday game. “And you can say that the chemistry with running the ball, how Alex Smith is already known as a conservative quarterback in the checkdowns, the safe passes – that’s their formula. And if you can’t disrupt that and get Alex Smith into longer pass situations, the third and five-plus, the strip-sacks are not going to come.
“So, we have to do a great job defensively of first stopping the run, putting them in field position where we can incorporate our rush and coverage together and that’s how you get sacks and turnovers.’’
Ray was all in as a Chiefs’ fan while growing up in the Kansas City area. He quickly named Derrick Thomas and Tony Gonzalez as two of his favorite players. Tim Grunhard, the Chiefs’ center through the 1990s, was Ray’s high school coach and the connection allowed the young Ray to meet several Chiefs players.
He received some publicity last year for getting tattoos on his back representing all his favorite Kansas City sports teams, including the Chiefs.
“Yeah, I was a diehard Chiefs fan,’’ Ray said. “As terrible as that sounds.’’
He got to know former running back Larry Johnson. Ray was in high school when a young running back from Texas, Jamaal Charles, became the hottest star in the land. Charles played nine seasons with Kansas City before knee injuries led to his release. He is now a Bronco.
“When Jamaal came in, he was electric,’’ Ray said. “He was the biggest thing for Kansas City since Priest Holmes. When you talk best Kansas City backs, it’s normally Jamaal Charles and Priest Holmes. Being able to watch him growing up, too, like I said he was an electric player. It’s awesome to have him here, too.’’
The moment Ray woke up from his wrist injury, his surgeon told him there was more damage than initially thought. He wouldn’t miss two games, but six.
He will play with a cast on his wrist Monday, but he won’t have to be clubbed up with mounds of tape that would inhibit a pass rusher. Ware and Miller were ineffective at sacking the quarterback while clubbed up in past Broncos seasons.
“They got me out there like Mega Man with this huge cast on, wrapped to my knuckles, up to my thumb knuckle,’’ Rays said while giving a nod to a video game character. “Still got all movement in my fingers and my thumb. The most difficult thing is trying to get fully extended on guys because I can’t turn my hand or push out because of the cast. But at practice (Thursday) and last week, I really didn’t have much issue with it.’’
Win and all is well with the Broncos. They are not supposed to. Their disturbing play of late has left them a full touchdown underdog. Lose, and the Broncos’ season may officially become derailed, as they have 6-1 Philadelphia and 5-2 New England up next on their schedule.
“I definitely think there’s a huge sense of urgency,’’ Ray said. “All the way from the coaching staff to the players. We need this win. We need it very much so. We try not to look at this game as a big game – but this game is a big game. This game is important for our division, this game is important for our future and our momentum going forward the rest of the season.
“So I think guys are really locked in. We had great energy at practice today. Everybody was on their assignments. Playing fast. And that’s really what we want, that’s Broncos football. And if we come out that mentality and everybody executes the way they’re supposed to do it and we get this win, that picks up the moral for not only our team, but our fans and everyone carrying on to the rest of the season.
“Because like you said we still play the Eagles, Redskins, these are good teams. I’d much rather go play these teams with a win this week, 4-3, then 3-4 and still having that same feeling of a loss. We need this victory for the moral of the team.’’