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Thursday, August 15, 2013
Broncos preparing Plan B on Von Miller

By Jeff Legwold

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio was asked Saturday if he had given much thought to what losing Von Miller for four games would do to his defensive game plan. Del Rio paused only slightly, and replied that he hadn't, that "right now we're just preparing the team we have.''

It could soon be time.

Miller's appeal of his suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy will be heard today by league officials. And while throughout the process Miller has expressed confidence he would not miss the first four games of the regular season, the Broncos have considered the possibility that some or all of the suspension will stand.

Nate Irving
If Von Miller's suspension is upheld, the Broncos would look to Nate Irving (above) to help shoulder some of the defensive load.
But they have taken a different tact with the potential loss of Miller than they did with the potential loss of starting linebacker D.J. Williams last season.

Broncos coach John Fox, when faced with the prospect of Williams' suspension to open the 2012 season -- nine games in all for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs and the personal-conduct policy as well -- did not let Williams practice with the starting defense or even the No. 2 defense in last year's training camp.

However, this time around Fox has left Miller in with the starting defense for most of the work in team drills.

"He's our starter, and as of right now he's not suspended,'' Fox said last week. "We're just going to let the process play out.''

With 30 sacks over the last two seasons, including 18.5 in 2012, Miller would leave a significant hole in Del Rio's defensive plan. But a look at how the Broncos have done things thus far in camp shows what the contingency plan would most likely be.

In the base defense, when Miller lines up as the strong-side linebacker, Stewart Bradley would remain in the middle, where he has moved in as the starter over the last two weeks. Nate Irving, who spent the offseason workouts as the starter in the middle, would play on the strong side. Irving was Miller's backup on the strong side last season.

"He's got strong hands at the point of attack and has that ability get rid of the blocker and get to the ball,'' Del Rio said of Irving. "And he's played there quite a bit, he knows what the job is.''

In passing situations, situations when Miller would move into a defensive end spot in the nickel or dime packages, Shaun Phillips would move into that role. Phillips scored the Broncos' only touchdown in the preseason opener in San Francisco with a 9-yard return of a fumble caused by Irving on a blitz from an outside linebacker position.

"[Phillips has] some natural rush ability, was around the quarterback, hitting the quarterback the other night,'' Del Rio said.

The Broncos would like rookie Quanterus Smith in the pass-rush mix as well, with or without Miller in the lineup, but he's still trying work his way back from a torn ACL he suffered last November in his final season at Western Kentucky. Smith has participated in every training-camp practice thus far, but was pulled out of practice Aug. 1 because of knee pain.

He has practiced each day since, although at times he has not looked to be at full speed.

"I'll be ready for whatever they want me to do,'' Smith said. "I want to be out there for whatever they give me to do."

"We're trying to get all the guys ready to go,'' Fox said. "You're always going to have things come up, that's the way this league is. You prepare and make adjustments. So we'll always make the adjustments we need to and go play.''