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Woody Paige: Another lost season for Broncos' Shane Ray?

June 5, 2018 Updated: June 6, 2018 at 8:00 am
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photo - Denver Broncos linebacker Shane Ray (56) takes part in drills during practice at the NFL football team's training camp Tuesday, May 29, 2018, in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Denver Broncos linebacker Shane Ray (56) takes part in drills during practice at the NFL football team's training camp Tuesday, May 29, 2018, in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) 

"Shane! Come back!" - Little Joey

Shane's comeback has been disrupted.

Instead, Shane Ray is anguishing through another setback.

And the Broncos' sturdiest and deepest position has gotten weaker and thinner by two the past week. It's not a splendid sign.

After Ray couldn't participate in the Broncos' OTA practice Monday with what coach Vance Joseph described as left wrist "irritation,'' the perceived starting outside linebacker could be out again for months.

There are more complications to the same injury - a torn ligament and separated bones in the wrist - he suffered in a routine linebackers-offensive linemen drill on the first day of 2017's training camp.

The last month has been dreadful for the fourth-year first-round draft choice, who turned 25 on May 18. On May 4 the Broncos declined to pick up Ray's fifth-season 2019 option, which would have guaranteed him $9.232 million. John Elway was leery of Ray's injury and underachieving history, and the Broncos fortuitously had drafted heralded edge rusher Bradley Chubb fifth overall.

This year Ray will make $2.9 million (including pro rata signing bonus). Tuesday, Ray was told by doctors he will have to undergo a fourth surgery on the left wrist. He is seeking a second opinion.

Ray's career is as scarred as his left arm.

Prior to the draft in 2015, the Missouri linebacker was arrested for possession of marijuana, and would drop to the Broncos at 23rd.

Two picks later, the Panthers chose Shaq Thompson, who has started 36 games at strongside linebacker, with three sacks, an interception and 106 tackles. Carolina recently extended Thompson for a fifth season.

On Oct. 18 of his rookie season, Ray suffered a grade 2 MCL knee sprain in Cleveland, and missed two games. He didn't start one game in the regular season or postseason opposite Von Miller, ending up with only four sacks and 15 tackles. He did force a fumble in the playoffs - and secured a Super Bowl ring.

In 2016, Ray started half the games, and played in all 16, and was named one of the 10 most-improved NFL players by Pro Football Focus. He doubled his sacks and his tackles.

Last season was supposed to be Ray's breakout as a full-mettle jacket complement to Miller.

It was a Lost Season, though.

Following an operation to repair the wrist and insert screws and pins, Ray was expected to be gone for six-eight weeks and return for the second or third game. But more difficulties required another surgery, and he was placed on injured reserve for six games. When Ray returned for the game in his hometown of Kansas City as a starter, he had lost weight (220s), didn't have the strength to dispense with linemen and played ineffectively - one tackle and no sacks. He tried for eight games, managing just 10 tackles and one sack.

Ray went back on IR for the final two games in the Broncos' putrid 5-11 season, and underwent a third surgery.

This season was supposed to be another attempt at a breakout - especially after Ray declared at the beginning of OTAs he was fully recovered. Rather, he has another tough break - or tear. Nobody seems to know when and if he can play.

The Broncos already had lost reserve outside linebacker Deiontrez Mount for the season with a torn Achilles.

Broncos Football
Denver Broncos linebacker Bradley Chubb (55) takes part in drills during practice at the NFL football team's training camp Tuesday, May 29, 2018, in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) 

Elway is sighing with relief over his decisions to select Chubb and not add another season to Ray's deal. The Broncos also signed, with a $15,000 bonus, undrafted free agent outside linebacker Jeff Holland, who was all-SEC at Auburn. He'll certainly receive an opportunity, but Holland is not as athletic or powerful as Ray or Chubb. Veteran Shaq Barrett and Chubb will compete to start on the strong side, and journeyman Marcus Rush, who has bounced among five NFL teams (playing two games in four years) could contend.

Yet, the Broncos won't have their highest-drawer four-backer rotation at the start, or perhaps the middle. Chubb's progression on the pro level must be fast-tracked.

Meanwhile, Ray has to believe his fortunes and health will improve so he can earn a fortune next season.

The Broncos and every little Joey and Mary must hope that Shane will come back.

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