Missouri pass rusher Shane Ray has heard the critics in the days leading up to this week’s NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. He calls that stuff noise, and as he so eloquently put in his news conference with the media on Saturday, he does not take it seriously.
“Well, the noise to me is the comparisons,” Ray said. “The people saying, ‘Is he better than this? Is he short? Is he 6-1? Are his arms short? Can he really run? Can he do all the things people speculate?’ That’s just noise to me.”
But that noisemade Ray, who was likely referring to an NFL.com article that ran before the Combine in which a former scout questioned his size, chuckle as he continued.
“I kind of laugh about it, cause I don’t know who told everybody I was six-foot,” Ray continued. “I’m taller than that, and I don’t have short arms.”
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However, Ray said, he’s always looking for motivation. And sometimes, the media provides just that.
“Sometimes, you might have to look at the media and comparison and push yourself just a little bit harder just to prove everybody wrong,” Ray said. “That’s kinda what I’ve been trying to do my whole life, is prove to everybody the kind of elite football player I am, and what I can be.”
Ray, the reigning SEC Defensive Player of Year, answered some of his size questions at the Combine Saturday, as he checked in at 6 feet 2 1/2 and 245 pounds with 33 1/8-inch arms.
Ray, a projected top-10 pick, said the teams he met with for formal interviews — which does not include the Chiefs, who figure to be picking too low to select him — seemed to be satisfied with his weight.
“They told me that’s a great weight for me,” Ray said. “I told them as well that I could probably get to 250 and still be very comfortable holding my speed and explosiveness.
“I haven’t heard a complaint from any teams.”
But due to what he called a lingering foot injury from the Tigers’ 33-17 bowl win over Minnesota, Ray will have to wait a month to show off elite first step. So instead of participating in the testing part of the Combine for defensive linemen on Sunday, he will do those things during Missouri’s Pro Day on March 19.
Ray, however, is confident that teams won’t need that to see his athleticism. All they have to do is turn on the tape of the 2014 season, when Ray racked up a Missouri single-season record of 14 1/2 sacks and also finished with 22 1/2 tackles for a loss, all the while showing position versatility and a relentless motor.
“I think Shane Ray has got the best first step I’ve seen,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “His get off is just immediate. He’s really gifted that way. They even kick him inside on occasion like they used to do with Aldon Smith. He’s so quick at the snap.”
Mayock, however, has some concerns about Ray’s ability to set the edge in the NFL at his current size.
“I’m not trying to say he’s not a tough guy or anything like that,” Mayock said. “I’m just saying at 235 or whatever he weighs, 240 pounds, he has trouble disengaging from big bodies, and that’s typical for an undersized edge rusher. So you’ve got a 320-pound tackle pushing on you in the run game, how do you disengage if you’re not more powerful? And that’s what he has to learn, hand placement. He’s got to get stronger. He’s got to find weapons to deal with those big bodies who are pushing him around in the run game.”
Ray, who said he played between 239 and 243 pounds during the season, is confident he will be able to handle the running game in the pros.
“Well, setting the edge is simply often your hand placement, explosiveness off the ball,” Ray said. “I felt like this season, I faced offensive linemen that were 6-8, 6-9, 350 pounds, and I set the edge easily, just as well as anyone else in the nation.
“And it’s simply just coming from placing your hands in the right place and having a good base, and I did that. So in the run game, people think I’m just a pass rusher, but I’m not. I take a lot of pride in the run game, being physical. My solo tackles speak for themselves as well. I’m chasing guys down across the field. I just like to think of myself as a complete player.”
Missouri defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski is confident Ray, who finished fourth on the team with 47 solo tackles, would be a great fit as an outside linebacker for a team that runs a 3-4 defense. Ray spent most of his time at Missouri rushing upfield out of a three-point stance, but would likely be charged rushing out of a two-point stance and dealiong more coverage responsibilities in a 3-4.
“I think he’s probably going to have to play outside linebacker, so his biggest challenge will be learning coverages and different fits and stuff like that,” Kuligowski said. “He’s going to be able to pass rush. But in terms of fitting into the whole package, he’ll just have to have some time to transition. That’s it. He’ll be able to learn it, he’ll just need some time.”
Ray is similarly confident, and he hasn’t been afraid to tell teams, which include some that run 4-3 defenses, as well, that, either.
“My main message for all these coaches and GMs is ‘I’m your guy,’” Ray said. “If you need somebody to go attack from anywhere on the field and be unstoppable, if I get a one on one, I’m gonna win it. You want to a guy you want to make the play on third down, go get the quarterback, strip the quarterback, I’ll go do that.
“That’s what I did for my team ... when they needed somebody to make a play, or go chase down a guy with the football, I was the guy to go do that.”