ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With the cameras and notebooks closing in on Denver Broncos linebacker Shaquil Barrett just minutes after the Broncos had earned an overtime win over the Cleveland Browns, some of Barrett’s teammates couldn’t resist trying to make Barrett lose his composure.
“Sack for Shaq, sack for Shaq, sack for Shaq," the three chanted. “Shaq Diesel," they added with a nod to Shaquille O'Neal, to go with “Shaq Attack." Through it all Barrett held up and maintained his composure until the three defensive backs dropped in ...
“Kazaam, baby, Kazaam."
The reference to O’Neal’s less-than-critically-acclaimed 1996 film caused Barrett to break into a rolling laugh. But it's been that kind of ride for Barrett, who had spent most of the 2014 season on the practice squad.
Barrett started against the Browns in place of DeMarcus Ware, who was held out because of a back injury. Barrett finished with nine tackles, 1.5 sacks, three tackles for loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a near interception.
Barrett is now second on the team in sacks, with 3.5, part of the Broncos' league-leading 26 sacks.
“You just see everybody making plays on this defense and you want to be one of those guys too," Barrett said. “I just want to make something happen whenever they put me out there."
With an offseason change in his diet, a little more first-step quickness and the fresh-start opportunity that comes with a new coaching staff, Barrett has simply been a revelation. A guy who makes the most of his snaps, whether it is the 10 snaps he played against the Detroit Lions or the 71 he played Sunday.
Asked Monday if, shortly after he was hired by the Broncos this past January, if he had seen Barrett's potential when he looked the video of last season’s practices, Broncos coach Gary Kubiak offered a smile.
“That'd be easy for me to say right now," Kubiak said. “I think everybody knew they had a guy that was a surprise, who had done a lot of good things and that they thought could be a good player. Then when we got into the minicamp and stuff, he just kept showing up. It's fun to watch stuff like that. It's fun to watch those guys become pros and just gain confidence. This guy gets his hands on the ball -- not only the turnover that he knocks loose, but he had another one. He tipped the quarterback's hand and had a chance for an interception there. As coaches, and I know other players, too, watching their buddies become players like he has ... it's fun for everybody to see."
The Broncos will need Barrett to keep up the progress in the coming weeks. Rookie outside linebacker Shane Ray suffered an MCL sprain in his right knee Sunday and is expected to miss several weeks, while Ware’s back is always a potential trouble spot. Ware is expected to play Nov. 1 when the Broncos face the Green Bay Packers, but Barrett will get spot duty behind Ware and Von Miller.
Asked what Barrett’s ceiling might be, given his meteoric vocational growth in recent months, Kubiak said he didn’t to set limits.
“I hope we don't know, I hope he just keeps coming," Kubiak said. He's going to get a great opportunity here. Of course, DeMarcus [Ware] we're hoping is back here when we get back to work for Green Bay. He has earned the right to go on the field ... One thing about this league, if you ever step out there and do it, they can't take it away from you if you keep doing it."