Shane Ray taking steps in 'right direction' for Broncos

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Though rookie outside linebacker Shane Ray was held out of most of the on-field work in the Denver Broncos' offseason program because of a toe injury Ray suffered in his final game at Missouri, Ray has not been limited in the opening week of training camp.

Ray might even have had his best day of the early going on Monday, when he worked with the starting defense because both Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware were among the veteran players who were held out of the practice to rest. Ray worked at outside linebacker with the starters and consistently showed the kind of explosiveness that made him the team's first-round selection in this year's draft.

"I'll tell you what, Shane had a good practice," Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said following Monday's practice. "He started slow early in practice. We got him going and he made some plays late in practice. We need him to show up and quick, and (Monday) was his day to be a starter. Obviously, we've got two great ones right there, but he was brought here to be a big part of that. He took a step in the right direction today."

In the early days of camp both Miller and Ware have worked extensively with Ray in between drills as well as before and after practices, giving advice, showing techniques and discussing different situations that could come up in games.

"We're getting him ready," Miller said. "He's not a rookie to me and DeMarcus, not at all, he needs to be ready to play because he's going to help us."

Ray had suffered what he called a "variation of turf toe," in Missouri's bowl game to close out the 2014 season. From their perspective, the Broncos felt Ray did too much in the pre-draft build-up to fully let the injury heal.

Ray did not participate in workouts at the scouting combine, but he continued to prepare for his pro day and was limited some in his on-campus workout to the point where some scouts in the league wondered before the draft if the injury was going to be an issue for Ray.

The Broncos rested him for much of the offseason work, giving him limited snaps, and also gave him some orthotics to wear in his shoes. The fruits of that strategy have been easy to see in camp's early going.

"It felt great," Ray said. "You have to come out and be a little bit more physical, work different techniques, especially in the running game, and I felt really good. Now it's football. You have the pads on, guys are hitting, getting really intense, attitudes are rising a little bit, but that’s what football is all about. With these kinds of practices, we have the opportunity to show how good of a football player you really are."

Ray is certainly not going to displace either Miller or Ware in the lineup, but the Broncos do want to manage Ware's snaps differently than last season, when he led the defensive linemen in snaps played and had just two sacks over the last eight games -- none in the final four games of the regular season.

Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has also said he looks forward to putting Miller, Ware and Ray in the formation at the same time. But in the end, Ray said he's glad just to feel healthy and back in the mix.

"It's very frustrating when you're injured and as much as you want to go out and compete, you can't," Ray said. "To be out here, to be with your teammates and be able to actually sweat and feel pain -- as crazy as that sounds -- but to do that with your brothers is a great feeling. I'm glad that I'm out here with my guys every day."