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Denver Broncos linebackers Shane Ray (56) and DeMarcus Ware (94) during the national anthem before the start of the game against the Carolina Panthers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Photo by Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
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Broncos LB Shane Ray ‘excited’ to fill DeMarcus Ware’s shoes

Denver Broncos linebackers Shane Ray (56) and DeMarcus Ware (94) during the national anthem before the start of the game against the Carolina Panthers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Photo by Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Growing up, every year Shane Ray aged, his shoe size grew to match, the Denver Broncos linebacker told the team’s website in December.

Ray remembered it being harder and harder to find shoes that would fit his size-14 feet at just the age of 15, which was the catalyst for his Shane’s Shoes program to provide low-income families with donated shoes.

But as the budding Broncos star grows into his NFL career, approaching his third year in the league, he’ll be stepping into an even larger caliber of shoes.

Those belonging to future Hall of Fame pass rusher DeMarcus Ware.

Ware not only departed Denver after the 2016 season, as most anticipated, but also the NFL, retiring with 138.5 sacks and one Super Bowl title in 12 seasons.

Ray certainly has large shoes to fill replacing Ware opposite Von Miller on the Broncos defense, but it’s a role he told 104.3 The Fan’s “Schlereth and Evans” that he’s “excited” to tackle.

“I think that at this point in my career, that’s what I was drafted for. That’s why I was brought here to Denver to eventually fill in that role,” Ray said. “I put in a lot of hard work these last couple of years, and I couldn’t be more excited for this opportunity.”

Among the things Ray, Denver’s first round pick in 2015, said he learned under Miller and Ware’s watch was patience.

“I had to raise my IQ of football and just understand the game more,” Ray said. “So, for the last two years I’ve felt like I’ve just kind of been like a sponge, just learning from Von and learning from DeMarcus, looking at film and understanding different situations.”

Ray said sitting and learning behind “two guys at a high caliber and high level” was a “far better situation” for him than being thrust into action right off the bad.

“There are so many things that as a young guy coming into the league you don’t really understand you don’t really know that it’s going to be that difficult,” Ray said.

“But I had a lot of time to be able to sit and actually learn from two guys and have to get myself together and become a pro. So, I’m glad it happened how it did.”

And Ray appears to be on the brink of breaking out as Miller’s partner in wreaking havoc upon quarterbacks.

In 2016, Ray doubled his sack total (8) from his rookie season (4) while pulling down 48 tackles, forcing one fumble and taking one of his two fumble recoveries to the house.

By comparison, Pro Football Focus graded Ray as its 46th-best edge defender, two spots ahead of Pro Bowler Vic Beasley and one behind his predecessor Ware.

Follow digital content producer Johnny Hart on Twitter: @johnnyhart7.