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Broncos' Shaq Barrett ready for first NFL start while Ware sits this one out

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With Ware ruled out for Sunday, coach Gary Kubiak said Barrett will be the guy to take the eight-time Pro-Bowler's place.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

With veteran linebacker DeMarcus Ware sitting out Sunday's game due to a back injury, second-year OLB Shaquil Barrett will be the starter when the Broncos roll into the Dawg Pound this weekend.

But the former CSU Ram says he is preparing this week just like he has the previous five - to play hard and to play in the game when called upon.

"I'm still preparing the same way I've been preparing," said Barrett, adding that both the ones and twos work in practice like they're starting in the game. "Every play, we take it 100 percent. We never know if we're ever going to get the nod, but if we do, we want to be prepared."

You could just see it early in training camp that he wasn't going to be nothing. He was going to be on this team.   -Von Miller about fellow outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett

But Barrett did change up his offseason this past year in hopes of being in this position right now - the guy called up when one of the Broncos' top two edge rushers in Ware or Von Miller is out for a game, or even just a few plays.

"I changed my diet up a lot. I used to just eat whatever I wanted to eat," Barrett acknowledged, adding that his typical offseason workout regimen had been similarly undisciplined.

Not this past offseason. Coming to the Broncos as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and spending the season on the practice squad, Barrett set his sights on the 53-man roster this year.

"I just worked out a lot in the offseason," said the married father of three, noting he stayed with a planned diet and workout program all offseason, which translated into dropping 12 pounds and going from 18 percent body fat to 11. "I just stayed with it because I knew this was my dream, and I wanted to do everything in my power to help my dream come true."

Miller certainly wasn't surprised to see Barrett move up the depth chart this season.

"I saw something from Shaq last year, but he was still young," Miller said, adding that he noticed a change in preseason. "You could just see it early in training camp that he wasn't going to be nothing. He was going to be on this team. He was going to be in the rotation on the 53. You could just tell by his performance and the way that he came in to training camp."

And count Miller among those with a lot of confidence in the young linebacker to step into Ware's place this weekend and not have the defense miss a beat.

I thought I'd be able to be a real good special teams player this year. I've just been getting [defensive snaps], trying to run with them and take advantage of my opportunity.   -Shaquil Barrett

"For the first five games, he didn't start, but he had a lot of playing time, and now he's [able] to come in and start," Miller said Thursday. "I think that he's more than ready to go. You should see a lot of great stuff from him this weekend."

Barrett admitted that although this is fitting in with his plan for improving this season, he didn't necessarily expect to play as many defensive snaps as he has - but he's certainly not complaining.

"I thought I'd be able to be a real good special teams player this year and be able to contribute that way. Defensively, I didn't think I would be able to get as many snaps as I've been getting," he added. "I've just been getting them, trying to run with them and take advantage of my opportunity."

And he has done that. Playing 99 snaps through the first five games, Barrett has five solo tackles and two sacks. His Pro Football Focus grade isn't too shabby either, showing up at No. 13 among all 3-4 OLBs - not too much below his mentors Ware (No. 5) and Miller, who is quietly holding down the No. 1 slot.

pff - barrett

Miller definitely thinks the defense's team chemistry off the field is translating to a seamless transition between starters and backups on the field too.

"I think it's critical to any team's success that you have great chemistry on and off the field," Miller said, adding that the Broncos defense started that with the new guys last year. "We've been with those guys for two years now and now it's not even chemistry, it's more of a friendship. I think that the chemistry is solid with everybody."

Barrett agrees, adding that going "100 percent for your brothers on the field" is part of the motivation during a game.

But the second-year player also appreciates the competition he has gotten from rookie Shane Ray. Both dominating in the preseason, the two have continued to push each other into the regular season and onto the game-day playing squad.

"Competition is always good. It always brings out the best in people," said Barrett. "We just take it in stride and just help make each other better by competing with each other."