ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — “Surprise, everybody!”
That’s how outside linebacker Shane Ray greeted the media Saturday after the Broncos’ first training camp practice, and he wasn’t wrong.
All summer — as the media thought Ray was rehabbing from left wrist surgery — he was training in Arizona.
There, he quietly prepared for his fourth NFL season, one that will answer many questions about the former first-round pick’s future in Denver.
“I wanted to go dark,” Ray said. “I wanted to keep my personal life personal. I posted an Instagram picture with a smiling face, because that’s just my personality.”
The details stayed a secret until earlier in the week, when news broke that Ray would not only avoid the Physically Unable to Perform list but would also be ready for the start of training camp.
“I just went and got a second opinion and there were other options other than getting surgery right now,” Ray said. “I went with those options, we tried some things out, got a splint made — a protective splint. I was out here using it today. I felt great. No pain, and I was just able to be me.”
Ray was a “full go” during Saturday’s opening practice, Head Coach Vance Joseph said, and he took plenty of first team reps during 11-on-11 drills.
The Missouri product emphasized to reporters after practice that the decision had little to do with him feeling pressure to play to keep his role with the team. Instead, Ray said he is simply focused on being there for his teammates.
“I’ve been in this league four years now,” Ray said. “I know how the game goes. I know what I can do. My teammates know what I can do. It was not like I’m panicking or anything like that. This is an important year for me, this is an important year for my team. And the kind of guy that I am, I want to be out here and help my team as much as I can. I’m here.”
Ray has reason to believe that being “here” will mean more than it did in 2017. After suffering his injury in training camp, Ray went on injured reserve until a midseason meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs.
From that game forward, though, Ray was forced to play with a protective club over his hand. This limited his effectiveness during games, and he recorded just one sack last season.
The injury also restricted his ability to lift weights, and Ray lost some of the muscle that helped make him one of the league’s rising pass rushers in 2016.
That should change, Ray said, as he has no limits on the field or in the weight room. And after arriving to training camp at 250 pounds — his heaviest weight since turning pro — Ray should have the muscle mass to again take on offensive tackles.
“This offseason was big for me,” Ray said. “I wanted to make sure I came in at a heavy weight but also be lean at the same time. When I found out I didn’t have to get surgery, I flew straight to Arizona and got to work. Everybody thought I was in bed laying down, and I was in Arizona hitting it hard. I got my weight up to 250, was able to keep my speed and my movement. And it’s going to show on the field.”
The Broncos will continue to monitor the situation, as President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway said Friday, but Ray isn’t currently concerned about the long-term prognosis on his wrist.
“It’s just something we’ll just have to watch,” Ray said. “As long as I’m not feeling pain — which I’m not — I’m good to go. So I feel good about it.”
For now, Ray’s just happy to be back on the field with his teammates.
“It just feels good to be out here and do what I love,” Ray said.