Denver Broncos experiencing trickle effect of great leadership
The Denver Broncos are experiencing the effects of great leadership trickling down from DeMarcus Ware, to Von Miller, now to Shane Ray…
John C. Maxwell once said, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” Former Denver Broncos pass rusher DeMarcus Ware exemplified these three essential qualities of a leader in his time with the team, and the Broncos are reaping the benefits of the trickle effect it has had.
When Ware was signed in 2014, it was an important acquisition for the Denver Broncos for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the impact it had at the time on a young superstar in the making — Von Miller.
"“What has DeMarcus meant to me?” Miller asked. “I could sit here all day and write a book, the moments where DeMarcus has impacted in my life.”* Broncos LB Von Miller (ESPN.com)"
As of the end of the 2013 season, Von Miller’s career was at a major crossroads. He was coming off of a season that included a six-game suspension, significant weight gain, and the worst possible ‘cherry’ on top of it all — a torn ACL in a regular season game against the Houston Texans.
Miller’s 2013 was overshadowed by the Broncos’ huge loss in the Super Bowl that year, but not for the front office. John Elway and the Broncos’ front office saw first hand on the biggest stage what kind of impact a fast, attacking defense could have. They looked into signing players like Everson Griffen, Michael Johnson, and Jared Allen, but when DeMarcus Ware was cut by the Dallas Cowboys, he was almost immediately on a plane to Denver.
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Ware’s arrival in Denver proved to be exactly what the Denver Broncos’ defense needed. In a star-studded 2014 free agent class that also included Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, and Emmanuel Sanders, Ware was a standout, and not just on the field.
Ware’s off-field habits and influence were essential to the development of an eventual Super Bowl MVP. Von Miller adjusted his offseason eating habits, drinking habits, workout habits, and everything in between. He worked his way out of the NFL’s drug program and earned the largest contract ever for a defensive player.
Miller hasn’t been shy about giving credit for his development in maturity to his mentor and friend, DeMarcus Ware.
Having a Hall of Famer in the building causes everyone — veterans, rookies, and everyone in between — to stop and watch. Ware didn’t become a sure-fire future Hall of Famer purely based on raw talent. He became the player he is through hard work, dedication to his craft, and a willingness to set the example wherever he was.
The impact Ware made was lasting.
Now that Ware has retired, the Broncos are experiencing the trickle down effect.
Shane Ray is now entering his third season in the NFL, and coming off of a year where he very quietly had eight sacks and was one of the most improved defenders in the NFL playing in rotation with Miller, Ware and fellow reserve Shaquil Barrett. Ray talked about the impact Ware had on him in his time with the team:
"“Demarcus’ leadership goes such a long way. Everything that he’s taught me the past couple years—all of the opportunities I had to learn stuff from him and see things from a first-ballot Hall of Famer’s perspective is a huge blessing. Not a lot of guys get to come into the league and have guys like that that are also willing to teach like Demarcus. It’s very bitter sweet for me. His presence in the locker room as a mentor and as a big brother is hard to replace. At the same time, this is how the business goes. This is how life goes. It’s time for me to step up and handle my business and take everything that he taught me and apply it to the field.”* Broncos LB Shane Ray (quotes obtained via Denver Broncos PR)"
Now that Ware is gone, it’s time for Miller to get ready to don the captain’s ‘C’ on his chest as the leader of this elite, historic Denver Broncos defense. Miller is not only leading by example, he’s taking on a more vocal leadership role and helping Ray and Barrett improve their craft on the field — and off of it.
"“Honestly, I always say that Von’s leadership really goes, not unnoticed, but a lot of people don’t talk about it the things that he does. He’s just as vocal with players and teammates as he is with media and everything else he does. I could say that his critiquing of me and [OLB Shaquil] Shaq [Barrett] and coaching us—Demarcus was more so a mentor—Von was like that tough big brother. ‘This is how you have to do it. Your feet look like this. No, you have to do it over again.’ Like that’s the kind of leader he is. He’s upfront and he teaches guys. I could say my eating habits and my wanting to get a chef and get my body to a certain body fat percentage and all those things came from Von. He did it on a whole different level—245-250 pounds with seven percent body fat who can bend like no other. I started trying to figure things out like, ‘Hey Von, how do I get my ankles more flexible? How do I do this?’ He’s always trying to help guys. He’s always trying to bring guys to extra workouts. Always trying to talk to guys. That’s him. Now, maybe it doesn’t look like that from the outside in, but that’s what he does every day. He never changes. That’s his personality.”* Shane Ray, Broncos LB"
What Miller learned from Ware — keeping your body in peak physical condition, teaching young players the way, and pushing everyone to be better today than they were yesterday — will be invaluable to the Broncos now and moving forward.
Ware’s example was the turning point in Miller’s career, and now Miller’s example is having a similar impact on another former first round pick in Shane Ray, and an undrafted workhorse in Shaquil Barrett.
Knowing the way and going the way are meaningless if you don’t show the way. DeMarcus Ware knew that. Because the Denver Broncos pursued him in 2014, Von Miller now knows it, and so does Shane Ray.
And the Broncos will be all the better for it.