Outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett's path to the NFL hasn't been easy. After his collegiate career at Colorado State, the undrafted Barrett fought his way onto the Broncos' practice squad. Four years later, Barrett may be poised for his breakout season. He's totaled 11 sacks over the past three seasons, but he has high expectations for Year 5. And All-Pro Von Miller believes he's ready for more. In June, Miller said Barrett's "10-sack season is coming." As Barrett preps for this year, we caught up with him about improvement, the Rocky Mountain Showdown and his standards for success.
Aric DiLalla: When you think of the time from when you came into the NFL until now, what's the part of your game that's grown the most?
Shaquil Barrett: "I think I've become a better playmaker by not always just engaging blocks all the time but engaging them quickly and getting off them. I've learned a little quick move that Von taught me, that in the run game helps me get a lot of TFLs [tackles for loss] and then [helps me] in the pass game, too. So it's like a little punch move and then you quickly shed and knock their hands down. I think that helped me out a lot. That's probably the biggest thing I took away from Year 1 to 5. Because usually I think I've just got to do my job and you can be a playmaker. As long as you make the play, you're good."
AD: Off the field, what have you learned from Von?
SB: "Von works super, super hard. He eats the right stuff all the time. He's told everyone before, his body's like a Ferrari. He doesn't want to put anything [bad] in the Ferrari. So probably his work ethic and the way he takes care of his body."
AD: What's it like for you to play in Denver and represent Colorado State?
SB: "I love it. I love it here. I love that I was able to play at CSU and come down here. It's just an hour-and-a-half trip up the road. And to be able to have that support is amazing. People know me a little bit already. And I think I'm trying to do a good job to establish myself here and make my name a household name here. I just appreciate all the support."
AD: We've got a Colorado alum on the roster now. Will that make the Rocky Mountain Showdown more exciting?
SB: "I always expect to beat them. They expect to beat us. It's all fun though. I usually try to go to the game down at our stadium and enjoy it. It's always good to see what they look like, see what our guys are looking like in the first game of the season. I know they're going to improve a lot, but getting that win is most definitely a great start to the season."
AD: What needs to happen for this to be a successful season for you?
SB: "I just want this to be my best season ever. So I want the most tackles I've ever had, the most sacks I've ever had, most TFLs. I need more than 50 tackles, more than six sacks — because the most I've had is 5.5 — and I want a lot of forced fumbles. I just want all of my numbers to be the best they've ever been."
AD: How have you started to take on more of a leadership role?
SB: "In my position group I most definitely talk to the guys and help out a lot. I kind of mentor the young guys and talk to them, especially the undrafted guys. They've just got to understand the process and the work that they need to do. That's the attitude that they should have. On the field, we've got a lot of guys that are stepping up and being leaders."
AD: What do you think fans don't understand or don't know about what it's like to be undrafted?
SB: "Everybody works hard, but as an undrafted player, you can't take any plays off. You've got to show your motor every play, show your hustle. And then on special teams it's all the same. You pretty much start off from scout team. So you've got to have the attitude that this is just the start. … If I show stuff in scout team, I have the potential to move up and earn a roster spot and a chance to compete for a role."
AD: Do you remember that most during training camp when it seems like a lot of guys are slotted into roster spots and you have to figure out a way to make the team?
SB: "Yeah, it's tough. That's why when I first got here, I just knew I had to flash and show them something that makes them think you're worth keeping on the practice squad if you don't make the active roster. I did enough, because I made the practice squad. That helped me out a lot. I thought I was ready to play my first year and I ended up learning so much. I still could've played and made some plays, but the practice squad helped me out a lot, just learning from [DeMarcus] Ware, Von and all those guys. And then going against our No. 1 offensive line, it just helped me get a lot better."
AD: What can having DeMarcus as a Pass Rush Consultant do for your game?
SB: "D-Ware notices things about the pass rush and can help me tweak my technique and fix it. He knows exactly what he's talking about. He's got 130-plus sacks for a reason. Having someone there who actually did it — someone who was at the top — it makes it a lot easier … to actually go out there and put it into your game."