October 15, 2015

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Shaquil Barrett is set to make his first NFL start on the league's top-ranked defense because star pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware is expected to miss Denver's game at Cleveland on Sunday with a bad back.

His coaches and teammates anticipate no drop-off.

''With the limited snaps that Shaq's got, he has two sacks. And I got three,'' Von Miller said. ''So, he's right there with the bunch. He's making a lot of plays for us in the preseason and during the season. When I come out there's really not a drop in performance. Shaq, he's a good fill-in for us.''

Barrett is a second-year pro who went undrafted out of Colorado State last year and spent the 2014 season on the Broncos' practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster twice but never got into a game.

Over the offseason he cut out sodas and worked out more than he dined out. He dropped from 254 pounds to 242 and trimmed his body fat from 18 percent to 11.

''I just think I got a little bit quicker and faster and more explosive,'' he said.

The results have been amazing.

He has a pair of sacks, three quarterback hurries and eight tackles to go with a team-best five stops and a forced fumble on special teams.

''He just continues to take advantage of every opportunity that he's gotten,'' coach Gary Kubiak said Thursday.

Barrett has teamed with first-round pick Shane Ray to give Ware and Miller frequent breathers and bring a second wave of pressure for opposing quarterbacks.

The Broncos have 22 sacks and 14 takeaways.

When Ware was knocked out of last week's game at Oakland with a strained back, Barrett logged a career-high 38 snaps from scrimmage, recording four tackles and one of Denver's four sacks of Derek Carr.

He also played 20 snaps on special teams and forced a fumble on the final play of the game, a punt, as time expired. Teammate David Bruton Jr. recovered, preserving Denver's 16-10 win.

Barrett's big leap from last year has taken everyone by surprise, including Barrett himself.

''I didn't envision it. I thought I'd be able to be a real good special teams player this year and be able to contribute that way,'' he said. ''But defensive-wise, I didn't think I'd be able to get as many snaps as I've been getting.''

He has taken 97 snaps, or 29.8 percent, of Denver's defensive snaps.

That experience will come in handy if Ware is sidelined on Sunday.

''Just being out there earlier in those five games helped me get the butterflies out of my stomach,'' Barrett said. ''I know I can play in this league now.''

NOTES: Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips credited Kubiak for the blitz that led to Chris Harris Jr.'s game-sealing interception and return for a touchdown at Oakland. ''They kick a field goal they go ahead of us there in the fourth quarter. They're already on the 30-yard line. Coach Kubiak walked over to me and said, `You better be aggressive.' I said, `OK,''' Phillips recounted. ... In addition to Ware, WR Demaryius Thomas (neck), RB Juwan Thompson (hamstring), CB Aqib Talib (ankle) and G Evan Mathis (hamstring) missed a second straight day of practice Thursday. ... The Broncos are mulling a promotion of RB Kapri Bibbs from the practice squad but the problem is finding someone to cut from the roster to make room.

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