The Denver Broncos are patching holes and looking to keep this vessel afloat.
Entering a title defense season for the Super Bowl 50 winners, John Elway and the Denver front office are trying to keep together what they can of the roster that brought their franchise its third title in February -- a tough ask with Peyton Manning riding into the sunset and Brock Osweiler backflipping off the starboard bow for Houston.
But -- but -- if the Denver defense can stay together, and stay something close to the black hole / all-consuming monstrosity it was last year, well...they got a chance.
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Enter Shane Ray, a 23-year-old All-American out of Missouri drafted by the Broncos in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Ray's been saddled with the heavy mantle of shoring up Denver's weakside linebacker spot -- a position currently anchored by Super Bowl MVP Von Miller and the ghost of DeMarcus Ware.
Here's a overly-dramatic slo-mo video of Shane Ray walking out because everyone was filming and I felt like I should pic.twitter.com/ouhPNSCTir— Ryan Koenigsberg (@RyanKoenigsberg) August 1, 2016
As Ray told the Denver Post's Nick Groke on Monday, he's more than ready to fill in for a pair of NFL mainstays and potential Hall of Famers. In fact, fans won't even be able to tell the difference when he's in there.
"I've jumped over that curve, and now I can be a consistent playmaker," Ray said. "That's why I was drafted. That's what I'm capable of doing. I don't think there will any drop-off between Von [Miller]'s and DeMarcus [Ware]'s production when I'm in. That's how I have to carry myself."
Ray experienced a rarity among NFL players by winning a Super Bowl with the Broncos in his first year in the league. Now, entering his second-year, his teammates are expecting to see what he's made after a year under the onus of being a first-round draft pick.
"When you have a rookie that comes in, a first-round draft pick, they get a rude awakening with the experience and the guys that are mature and have done it for a long time," Ware said of Ray. "Expectations are there. When you take those expectations off, not saying that you're a rookie anymore and taking that title off, you can see how much he's matured."
Ray will have to contend with third-year Denver linebacker Shaquil Barrett for honors of taking over for DeMarcus Ware as the veteran struggles with back injuries. Ray says he's ready.
"I want to be complete," Ray said. "I'm ready. I think they know that. I love DeMarcus, and he's a great coach to all of us, a great mentor. I'm still asking him every day how I can get better as a player. I'm looking forward to the season and my role expanding...and just taking it and running with it."
Dan is on Twitter. Bold statement but fair statement.