- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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INDIANAPOLIS — In the moment, John Elway was talking about quarterbacks and about some of the football lessons his father, Jack, had taught him through the years.
“There’s a difference between arrogance and confidence too,’’ Elway said when recalling what his late father said about how the game's Alpha dogs should go about their business in the huddle. “Every guy handles that a little different. A lot of times you can make your job a lot easier with a little humility.’’
And while Von Miller is in no way a quarterback, there is no question one of the biggest offseason questions, one of the biggest offseason needs, for the Denver Broncos is for Miller to find some vocational humility.
Talk to those in and around the Broncos and ask a question with Miller’s name in it and the same words keep popping up.
Maturity. Grown up. Settle down. Be a professional. Talent. And, yes, humility.
Because as Miller rehabs a torn ACL he suffered in the Broncos’ Week 16 win in Houston, the Broncos are hoping there is at least some makeover to other parts of Miller’s résumé as well. Because in the world both inside and outside of professional athletics there is often no more wasted commodity than talent.
And Miller’s 2012 season was one where people saw immense, remember-when talent and in 2013 some wondered exactly what Miller intended to do with that talent.
There was the six-game suspension to open the season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. There was the eyebrow-raising “I know I did nothing wrong,’’ statement from Miller on Twitter in July despite having progressed several steps into the league's drug program. There was the arrest for a missed court appearance to go with a traffic stop just days after that arrest, when he was cited for multiple traffic violations.
There was Miller’s return to the field when many personnel executives around the league believed he simply came back too heavy. The weight gain was intentional Miller said, to add to his game.
But there was some feeling that a player who was routinely special before his suspension, elite in so many ways, only flashed that ability on his return. Then there was the knee surgery and the coming recovery that will keep him out of the Broncos’ offseason work.
“I think he’s grown up a lot, I think it affected him during the year, it had to, everything that went on with him,’’ Elway said at the league’s scouting combine. “He’s done a tremendous job of doing the right things, and everything he’s supposed to be doing. Hopefully he can continue doing that and Von can be back to the Von we know he can be.’’
Broncos head coach John Fox has spent a quarter century in the NFL as a long-time defensive assistant, defensive coordinator and head coach. He has seen what an elite edge player can do for a defense up close when Miller’s 18.5 sacks in 2012 powered the Broncos to a top five finish in almost every major defensive category. He has seen it in Hall of Famer Michael Strahan as well as in Julius Peppers along the way.
The Broncos want Miller to be that guy, need Miller to be that guy. But the Broncos also need Miller to want to be that guy.
To this point Miller has always said he wants to be “a guy his teammates can rely on, a guy people can look to, to do the right thing.’’ He has said that numerous times and as his employer with a lot already invested and the potential for more to come, the Broncos need him to live it.
“Your hope is there is a maturation, an improvement,’’ Fox said this past week. “That’s what you hope with any player year to year. We have a lot of resources, a lot of people working very hard, whether it’s medically, spiritually, whatever, in that building … You’re looking for growth, that’s what you do. You find the best human talent and motivate them to get better. That’s really what we do.
Fox then added, “He’s a good kid, but sometimes, at least in the past, some things have popped up … I’m not going to sit here and guarantee anything.’’
There is no question 2014 is, and will be in each of its 52 weeks, an important year in the Broncos-Miller relationship. Because in ’14 the team will have to decide what the future will hold.
Miller’s contract, the one he signed in the swirl of high hopes that come with being the second pick of the draft, expires following the 2014 season. He is, because of his six-game suspension, in Stage 3 of the league’s drug program and will remain there, according to the policy, for the remainder of his career and subject to increased testing because of it.
Eight months ago Miller was viewed as a potential foundation player, the first guy selected in the Elway regime, a player even long-time Broncos defensive coordinator from the hallowed Orange Crush days, Joe Collier said had the potential to the franchise’s best-ever defender.
A player who now is viewed to have more than a few question marks following behind him.
And there is this: Since Roger Goodell became the league’s commissioner in 2006, 132 players suspended for at least one game under either the substance-abuse policy or the policy on performance-enhancing drugs started just one-quarter of their career games after serving the suspensions, according to ESPN Stats and Information. The players, as a group, started 74.4 percent of their career games before their suspensions and just 25.6 percent of their career games following.
“He needs to put last year behind him, hopefully he’s learned his lesson,’’ Elway said this past week. “He needs to get back to being the Von that he can be.’’
Especially if there is to be any sort of future for the Broncos and Miller together beyond the season that's to come.
4dEric D. Williams