A linebacker on some downs, Miller plays a hybrid position for Jack Del Rio’s defense and is sometimes lining up at defensive end. Regardless of where he’s lined up, Miller has one goal in mind—put pressure on the quarterback.
Miller is currently recovering from a torn ACL he suffered last year in the team’s Week 16 game against the Houston Texans. During mandatory minicamp this week, Miller was doing individual drills, but he wasn’t on the field for any team activity.
The veteran may be ahead in his recovery, and he’s looking to another superstar who had a miraculous recovery from a knee injury. Miller is drawing inspiration from Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
“I look at the [Vikings RB] Adrian Peterson story every single day and it’s motivation for me. I just did a lot of research and a lot of reading into ACL surgery and the protocol and all that stuff. For me, my confidence has never swayed. I feel like whenever I get back on the field, I’d rather it be like, ‘Von’s taking too long.’ I wouldn’t want it to be like, ‘Von doesn’t look the same anymore.’” Miller continued, “So I’m all in for working as hard as I can to get back on the field in a timely manner, but when I get back out there, I’m ready to go.”
Miller is not trying to beat Peterson’s recovery, but he’s attempting to make a similar quick—and remarkable—recovery from his knee surgery.
“He set the bar extremely high. His injury was totally different from mine. He had an ACL and an MCL. For me it’s just the ACL. Everything that he did, I just use it for motivation. It’s not really like a competition or anything like that. Everybody’s body is different. I just look at him and try to see all the stuff that he was doing to help better his body and try to do some of the same stuff.”
A Defensive Leader?
Leadership is a word that is tossed around a lot at Dove Valley in recent weeks. The team lost key defensive leaders in free agency such as cornerback Champ Bailey (New Orleans Saints) and linebacker Wesley Woodyard (Tennessee Titans). Miller feels that he can be a leader whether or not he’s at full strength.
“Of course. Who doesn’t want to be a leader? I’m not putting all my chips in that basket. I want to be a great player. I want to help win championships for the team. If my teammates look up for me then that’d be great. But I’m just trying to get everybody around me in the linebacker room, try to get all those guys going. Have all those guys buy into the playbook, what we’re doing. Stay on those rookies because I remember when I was a rookie too, I messed up a lot. I think I messed up more than I made plays.” Miller emphasized, “So I try to identify with those guys and let them know that don’t give up. It’s hard learning an defense fast. You’ve just got to stay on top of it. That’s where all my input goes to right now, in the classroom.”
Miller is well-respected by his teammates because of his natural ability. He can certainly inspire with his ferocious play, and leading by example is something that Miller is doing this year at Dove Valley. It just so happens that Miller is doing it in the film room and the classroom.
He will be leading on the field when he’s healthy enough for team drills. Miller has a newfound maturity after a 2013 season that was cut short by a six-game suspension and his knee injury.
The maturity and leadership behavior may be inspired by a player who Miller admired growing up in Dallas.
A New Mentor
In addition to looking for inspiration from Peterson, Miller also aspires to be like his new teammate—future Hall of Fame defensive end DeMarcus Ware.
“DeMarcus is great. He’s an open book. And with the type of career he’s had and the type of success he’s had over a long period of time, you learn a lot of stuff. To have a guy that, it’s like having an encyclopedia in there.” Miller continued, “He knows all kinds of stuff, all types of situations. And not just for me, but for all the guys in there. Because my style is different from everybody else’s style. [DE] Derek [Wolfe’s] style is different from my style, and so forth. So he has all types of ways to help players out and I’m really appreciative.”
When the Broncos lost defensive end Elvis Dumervil (Baltimore Ravens) in the fax fiasco of 2013, they lost more than just a pass-rusher—they lost a mentor for Miller. Dumervil was a calming influence on Miller, and he gave the up-and-comer tips on how to be a better pro.
By adding Ware, the Broncos have added real value on and off the field.
Broncos head coach John Fox is excited about the possibilities with this “dynamic duo” of pass-rushers. “We went way out of our way to get that tandem. Again, time will tell how they work. They’re working very hard up to this point and they’re both very, very talented people.”
Simply put: Ware could bring out the best in Miller. That’s an exhilarating idea for Broncos fans, and that’s a terrifying idea for Broncos opponents.
Miller’s availability for the start of training camp is unclear at this time. The team could choose to put him on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list at the beginning of camp with the hopes that he’ll be ready by Week 1 of the regular season.
When Week 1 is here, Miller will be almost nine months removed from the injury. This is enough time for him to be on the field at least as a part-time player for the Broncos.
So long as Miller doesn’t suffer any setbacks in his recovery, it’s not out of the question to believe that he can be ready for the season opener against the Indianapolis Colts.
The Broncos could ease Miller in as a part-time pass-rusher if he’s not quite healthy enough at the beginning of the season. They have a bye in Week 4, and after that we could see Miller look more like his old self.
With Ware on the opposite side, offensive lines will have their hands full. Miller could really benefit from Ware’s presence, and we could see him have more one-on-one situations. The veteran could win these battles and push for double-digit sacks (or more) in 2014.
One thing is clear at this time: Miller is an elite athlete who is showing fantastic recovery ability. When Peterson came back from his knee injury he rushed for a career-best 2,087 yards in 16 games.
It’s not out of the realm of possibilities that Miller could come back and best his career high of 18.5 sacks. Broncos fans should be hoping that Miller can make a Peterson-like recovery in 2014.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos.
Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.