Broncos LB Shane Ray chose rehab over 4th wrist surgery; expects gradual return to full participation

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos linebacker Shane Ray, who is now in a contract year, is expected to be worked into training camp practices on a graduated basis when the team begins its on-field work Saturday, after five weeks of rehab work on his ailing wrist instead of surgery that had been scheduled.

Veterans will report for training camp Friday. Ray, who had three surgical procedures on his wrist last season, went to Houston on June 13 when a fourth surgery had been scheduled. At the time Ray called it a "bone fusion.''

Ray also said at the time he hoped the surgery would be "the last one.'' But once X-rays and other tests were conducted last month as the Broncos closed out their mandatory minicamp, doctors advised Ray a rehab program could work for him instead, so no surgery was performed.

Ray had still been held out of the team's offseason program and wore a brace on the wrist throughout the sessions. The Broncos' plan for Ray as camp opens is to gradually ramp up his workload through the preseason.

The fourth-year outside linebacker, who was the Broncos' first-round pick in 2015, will be an unrestricted free agent at season's end because the Broncos did not pick up his fifth-year option earlier this year.

The Broncos also selected outside linebacker Bradley Chubb with the No. 5 pick of the draft this past April and Chubb spent much of the offseason program working with the starters on defense, so Ray's playing time was already going to be impacted some.

"I can control what I can control, and this is something that nobody had control over,'' Ray said last month. " ... [The injury is] frustrating, but all I can do is try and keep a positive mind. I'm more anxious to just get it done and over with so I can start my healing process and get back out here with my team.''

Team sources said Monday that Ray is currently pain-free. Had he had surgery, Ray said the recovery time was expected to be "two or three months.''

Ray finished the 2017 season on injured reserve, placed there in December, shortly after a third surgery on his wrist, that one to remove screws that had been put into place to aid in healing. He finished the season with just one sack.

Ray originally suffered his injury in the first week of training camp and missed the first six games of the regular season on injured reserve. He played in the last eight games, starting seven, but he admitted he struggled at times physically after his return to the lineup.

Because of his injury, he could not weight train as he has in the past and said he had played last season at about 220 pounds rather than his usual 240 to 242 pounds.

After DeMarcus Ware's retirement after the 2016 season, 2017 was to be Ray's first season as an unquestioned starter. After he had eight sacks in spot duty in '16, he had consistently expressed his optimism that he could reach double-digit sacks playing alongside Von Miller.

He averaged 44.3 plays per game in his eight games last season.