The Bills' rookie minicamp last month included a number of players fresh out of college, along with one who was trying to make an NFL comeback after years away.
30-year-old linebacker Shane Ray was signed to Buffalo's roster after completing the workout, getting him one step closer to playing in the NFL for the first time since 2018.
The Broncos had drafted Ray No. 23 overall in 2015, and in his first season he was a part of Denver's Super Bowl 50 roster. He looked to be building on that momentum in his second year, playing in all 16 games (eight starts) and collecting eight sacks. But in 2017 came the emergence of recurring wrist injuries that severely limited his playing time over the next two years.
He was repeatedly placed on injured reserve and underwent four wrist surgeries in that time, leading to the Broncos letting him go after the 2018 season. Though he had a brief preseason stint with the Ravens, Ray did not play in 2019, partially due to the continued impact of his injury. Then with 2020 came the pandemic and its associated challenges, and Ray spent the next few years getting healthy and playing in the Canadian Football League, spending two years with the Toronto Argonauts as he tried to work his way back.
Ray described this time as some of the toughest years he's experienced, forcing him to reevaluate his perspective on life and football.
"I had to humble myself, more than humbled than ever before," he said, per the Associated Press. "From going to Canada and buying in, you know I can't act like there were days that I didn't walk in and I was like, 'Bro, this is where I am? … I was desperate for an opportunity."
And now, over four years after he last donned an NFL jersey, his dream of playing in the league again is alive.
Ray's signing with the Bills also means he will reunite with Von Miller. The pair lined up opposite each other on the Broncos' Super Bowl-winning defense and had worked out together the last few offseasons. Miller said that while he was happy to help his former teammate in their workouts, he had nothing to do with orchestrating Ray's signing with the Bills, and emphasized that Ray's second chance was purely a result of his own determination and character.
"Everything that Shane's got, it's all been all off of Shane. So Shane should feel proud about that. His opportunity is solely based off of him," Miller said. "I've definitely seen him at his lowest. And I've seen him at his highest, too. And I constantly reminded him of who he is, and who he can be."
While there's still hurdles to overcome in the next few months, including staying healthy and making the final 53-man roster, Ray said that he's proud of how far he's already come, and getting one more opportunity is all he can ask for.
"I know everybody has hard times, and I understand that people don't often get second chances. And mine came after a really long time. But like I've been telling everybody, the one thing I didn't do is I didn't quit on myself," he said. "No matter how this ends, I can go back and be like, 'I gave you everything that I had. And I can live with that.'"