Like every rookie, Shane Ray was a bit naïve about the transition from college star to NFL rookie.
He even made the mistake of predicting he would win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 2015.
Then reality hit. Ray wasn’t going to be the league’s top rookie if he wasn’t on the field. When you play the pass-rushing linebacker position occupied by Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, it’s difficult to get playing time. Even if you were a first-round draft pick.
“Coming in … realizing what I did in college was not going to transfer to the league as easy as I thought it would,” Ray said. “At this level you’ve got guys that are very smart in everything they do as far as technique. Your athletic ability can only take you so far. That was a big thing for me.’’
It’s a stronger, leaner, more mature Ray who showed up for his second season with the Broncos. About a week and a half after the Broncos won Super Bowl 50, Ray headed to Florida to start intense workouts. He added about 8 pounds of muscle in the weight room and started eating healthier.
Ray said at one point last season his weight dropped to 234. He’s up to 245 now while also maintaining his body fat at about 10 percent.
There are no trophies for sophomore player of the year in the NFL. But one way for that vaunted Denver D can be better this year is through a better Shane Ray. He should get more playing time this season as the Broncos monitor the snaps for the veteran Ware, who will soon turn 34.
“The expectations for us as young guys is to step up, do what we’re supposed to do and help lead this team,” Ray said. “I think defensively we’re bringing a lot of guys back and we’re probably bringing in a little bit more firepower.”
Not that Ray won’t still make the occasional young-man’s mistake. He ordered a full-back tattoo of his Kansas City hometown in March. The artist etched the city’s skyline, logos of the Kansas City Royals, Sporting Kansas City (soccer team) and … and … the logo of the Kansas City Chiefs.
That’s the Broncos’ division rival Chiefs.
“For me, it wasn’t about the Chiefs logo or anything like that,” Ray said. “It was about really just representing my city. I have a lot pride in my city and the things that I’ve been through and where I’ve come from. For me, it was just embracing the Kansas City culture and having something like that on my body. I felt like it was important to me.
“I let the Broncos fans know that it has nothing to do with how I’m going to play the Chiefs every game. I’m going to go out there and try to play the best that I possibly can. I’m a Bronco, I love being here and I love this organization.”