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Shaq Barrett aims to take the next step

Colorado has been kind to third-year outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett.

Just a few years after wreaking havoc with the Colorado State Rams, Barrett has found his niche in the Broncos linebacker room. And it didn't take long.

The 2013 Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year spent much of his rookie season on the Broncos' practice squad, but he broke onto the scene in 2015.

Barrett earned playing time in all 16 regular season games and each of the Broncos' three postseason steps toward a Super Bowl title. He showed a knack for the big play, as he racked up 5.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries during the regular season.

Add in the eventual Super Bowl 50 title for the CSU product, and you're left with a pretty incredible storyline for a player who clung to the bottom of the roster in 2014.

"I didn't imagine that [level of success] at all," Barrett said. "I thought I was going to be a majority special-teams guy. The Super Bowl, I knew [with] the winning culture here we always wanted to get to the Super Bowl and expected to get there every year. I didn't think that far ahead. I'm happy to be a part of the organization and the winning tradition, and hopefully we keep working and try to get there again this year."

After the season, Barrett rewarded himself with a little rest and relaxation. He boarded a cruise that went to the Bahamas, Virgin Islands, Grand Turk and St. Thomas. And while he said his diet slipped a little bit while he was on vacation, he's now back on track as OTAs draw near.

Barrett said he'll try to contribute more on defense and special teams this year, but he wouldn't bite when asked whether his goal is to start for the defending Super Bowl champions.

"If that's what the coaches want," he said. "We're going to go out there and compete. I know we've got me and [OLB] Shane [Ray], we're going to compete. Whatever happens, happens. I think I'm ready if they need me to."

To take the next step, Barrett said he needs to continue to tailor his technique for the NFL level. That tune up includes improving his footwork on his pass rush and keeping his body low as he comes off the edge.

As Barrett focuses on his own game, he'll also aim to follow the lead of outside linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller and be an asset to the younger players.

"I'm still a young guy," Barrett said, "but we still have young guys that are younger than me now. We've just go to try and help them out. [We've got to] teach them like D-Ware and Von have been teaching me.

"They are very involved. They're always willing to lend a helping hand. That's what I think I need to get better at. I see guys doing stuff sometimes and I might be lazy and I don't feel like trying to help them out. I've got to get rid of that trait and just always be willing. Put myself behind and worry about the team and help them out so everybody could be strong links to the chain."

Should Barrett continue to improve after a breakthrough 2015 season, there's no telling just how strong that chain can get.