Shane Ray spent the past two seasons with the Denver Broncos playing injured and not playing up to his standards.
He had just one sack in 2017. He had just one sack in 2018. Now he’s in Baltimore with a large chip on his shoulder, determined to prove he is still a dynamic pass rusher.
“Now that I’m healthy, I’m going to let my play do the talking,’’ said Ray, a 26-year-old outside linebacker who signed a one-year contract last week. “I know what I bring to the table. And I wouldn’t be here if they (the Ravens) didn’t know.
“When you’ve gone through the things I’ve been through, feeling that you’re almost at the top, then you get injured and your organization moves on from you when you get injured? I signed late in free agency. I’ve had to deal with a lot mentally, teams looking at me and not signing me. To finally be in a situation where I’m actually on a team, out on the field? I’m far more motivated than I ever could’ve been without all of that happening.”
There’s no doubt the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Ray has the potential to be a consistent NFL edge rusher. Ray looked ready to emerge as a star after recording eight sacks in 2016, earning a reputation as a relentless pursuer of quarterbacks.
The Broncos drafted Ray to be one of the cornerstones of their defense. He was a unanimous All-American at Missouri, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2014, and the 23rd-overall pick in 2015. He was expected to be the bookend pass-rushing compliment to Von Miller, the Broncos’ seven-time Pro Bowler and former Super Bowl MVP.
However, Ray dislocated his left wrist in 2017 prior to training camp, and the injury has required four surgeries. Ray missed eight games in 2017 and was inactive for five games last year. He says playing with his wrist injury instead of letting it heal first damaged the perception of him as a player.
“I came back and played before I should have, and that set me back another year,” Ray said. “It’s been two seasons of recovering from an injury, which is what caused me not to have the seasons I wanted to have the past two seasons in Denver.
“Nobody would think a wrist would hold you down like that. But when you play the position I play, it affects you. Trying to wrestle with 300-pound offensive linemen with one hand just doesn’t work. Now that I’m healthy, I can bench (press) again, I’m strong again. I have a chance to just be me again with a fresh slate.”
When Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs departed Baltimore during free agency, it left a pass-rushing void the Ravens needed to address. They responded by drafting FBS all-time career sack leader Jaylon Ferguson in the third round, then signed Ray and Pernell McPhee as free agents on May 17.
Matthew Judon, who had seven sacks last season, will be a fixture in the Ravens’ defense. But the competition for playing time opposite Judon is wide open, with Ray, McPhee, Ferguson, Tim Williams, and Tyus Bowser all having an opportunity to earn reps.
Ray is embracing the challenge and loves the defensive talent he sees on the Ravens during OTAs.
“I’m here to help this team get after the quarterback and to be a great defense,” Ray said. “They had a great defense last year. What, they had like 11 sacks in one game (against the Tennessee Titans)? It wasn’t just one guy. That’s the kind of defense I like to be on, where making plays is contagious.
“I already know our secondary is something special. It’s stacked across the board. As a pass rusher, that makes you excited – more time to get the quarterback. They can’t get the ball out fast with the secondary we have. These guys are real ballhawks.”
Ray has something that every player covets – a Super Bowl ring. He won it as a rookie with the Broncos, and he appreciates it more as time passes, having learned that NFL success doesn’t come easily.
Coming to Baltimore is a chance for Ray to reboot his career, an opportunity he doesn’t plan to waste.
“I’m trying to go back to the Super Bowl,” Ray said. “These boys went to the playoffs last year, and I haven’t been to the playoffs since 2015, the year we won it. As a rookie, you think it’s going to be like this every year. But the Broncos haven’t been back to the playoffs since.
“This is a great organization, Lamar Jackson’s a great young player. You see the formula building. You see the potential of this team. I’m glad to be part of it.”