With Denver Broncos outside linebacker Shane Ray out for six to eight weeks with torn wrist ligaments, head coach Vance Joseph has to deal with a sizeable void in the pass rush just two days into training camp.
Ray, who was set to become a starter following the retirement of DeMarcus Ware, reportedly injured his wrist on the opening day of training camp, but participated on the second day before failing to make the afternoon’s walkthrough.
Mike Klis, interviewed on Orange and Blue radio, suggested Ray could miss the first two games of the season, with surgery penciled in for Saturday. The news is a huge blow to the Broncos, already without Shaquil Barrett until the second month of the season as he rehabilitates.
With Ray out, the Broncos desperately need to find a new partner for Von Miller in the pass rush. Here are five players that could help the Broncos out at this difficult time.
Former New Orleans Saints linebacker Edebali, a German native, signed with the Broncos back in March on a one-year, $1.2m deal.
With Barrett already out, Edebali was expected to be the rotation guy off the bench to cover for Miller and Ray.
In 2016, Edebali had 54 total tackles and eight sacks, while playing 280 snaps (58.7 percent) on special teams in New Orleans.
His presence and experience could help bridge the gap in the first two games of the season.
If the Broncos don’t add a veteran, Edebali is the top option, but Vontarrius Dora & Ken Ekanem have some speed off the edge.
— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) July 28, 2017
Dora was promoted from the practice squad to the Broncos roster in December 2016, when Brandon Marshall was originally injured.
Former head Coach Gary Kubiak was vocal about the next step for Dora, who was an undrafted free agent out of Louisiana Tech.
“Congratulations to Dora. The kid has done a great job so he gets rewarded,” Kubiak said.
“You may see him before the year is out. He’s got a bright future.”
Dora earned his first start against the Oakland Raiders in January – the final game of the season, and has so far looked solid in training camp.
While Edebali has experience in New Orleans, Dora has got very good speed, and can be useful in run defense as well as the pass rush. The 6-foot-4, 256-pounder has a good chance of making an impression in Denver and should not be counted out.
Vontarrius Dora is going to be quite the chaos bringer stepping up into the rotation this season: https://t.co/RrG1vPTo0D
— The Orange Page 🐴 (@theorangepage) July 28, 2017
Ekanem sat through the whole 2017 NFL Draft without being selected.
The former Virginia Tech player ended up in Denver, after the Broncos contacted him and offered him to join the squad.
At his time at Virginia Tech, Ekanem had a total of 131 tackles, 34 tackles for a loss, 22.5 sacks, six pass deflections, and two forced fumbles.
If we look at the stats for his final season, he had six tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, and two pass deflections. Ekanem’s freshness could be exactly what the Broncos need.
On the first day of training camp, Ware posted an exciting video on Instagram, and has shown he is still working out despite his retirement.
One would be forgiven for thinking that the former Bronco may want to come back and have another season. With the news of Ray’s injury, this could be the perfect opportunity, while it is a peculiar situation.
In February, Ware told ESPN he feels “like a new man” and that he wants to return to the field for the 2017 season.
“I definitely want to play. I’ve got a lot of passion. I’m always chasing that ring,” he added.
“People say if you get four sacks you pass this guy, or if you get five sacks you pass that guy — four-this, five-that. But my biggest thing is always I want a ring while I’m sacking the heck out of the quarterback.”
He retired a month later. Does he still have it in him? Could he fill the gap for even a short period of time in Denver?
His experience and leadership, and ability to get to the quarterback, would be invaluable to the Broncos if John Elway can talk him out of retirement. Already on a roll since signing a new five-year contract to remain general manager until 2021, a phone call to Ware wouldn’t be a surprise.
Freeney is an interesting option.
The defensive end was most recently at the Atlanta Falcons. But his snap count was very limited last season and Atlanta resigning him is a “last resort” according to sources.
Again, his ability and veteran leadership could be exactly what the Broncos need in the short term if they don’t like what they see from their in-house options at linebacker.
One thing is for sure. It isnt going to be easy for Joseph and Elway, and the players haven’t even got into pads.
The football gods are not making it easy on Vance Joseph’s 1st yr as HC. Barrett, Booker, Ray hurt before pads go on. #9sports
— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) July 28, 2017