ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Whenever the Denver Broncos' chief decision-maker, John Elway, describes the developmental process, he will routinely offer, “We don’t draft All-Pros, we have to make them."
And over the course of the past week, wrapping up today, we've taken a glimpse at a few key players who are at various stages of the developmental process. Some have been named to the Pro Bowl, some will be starters for the first time in the coming season.
But what they all have in common is that more is expected of them than they could give, for a variety of reasons, in last season’s run to the Super Bowl.
Today: Linebacker Von Miller.
There is a theory in and around the Broncos about Miller, as the first draft pick of the Elway/John Fox regime gets set to enter his fourth season. And granted, the sample size is fairly small and all, but the bottom line is if folks see less of the 2013 Miller in the season to come, the more they’ll see the 2012 Miller.
And that's a good thing -- a potentially really good thing -- as one of the people with that opinion is Miller.
As he said during the team’s recent offseason workouts, “Last year, my body, I was great. I liked where I was. But it’s just experimentation. That didn’t work as well as I thought it would … It’s just experimenting. I think me being able to be lighter is just better for me."
As Miller returns from last December’s surgery to repair his ACL, the Broncos have seen at least two things that give them hope that Miller can return to his 18.5-sack form of 2012 when, if not for an otherworldly season from Houston defensive tackle J.J. Watt, Miller would have likely been the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.
First, the arrival of DeMarcus Ware, a steadying presence in both word and deed, has helped Miller. At least some of the other players in the locker room believe that to be the case.
Miller is immensely talented, but he has also wrestled with his immature, it’s-not-my-fault, I-do-what-I-want side, particularly last season with several off-the-field issues, including a six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He respects Ware, and Ware sees the potential in Miller.
Miller, by most accounts, has also been reliable, focused and well-intentioned in his rehab work and appears to understand that, as a player in Stage 3 of the league’s substance abuse program, he has less room for error than most when it comes to his football future.
And secondly, there’s just less of Miller. He’s far closer to the 255 pounds or so he was, as he works through his recovery with the team’s strength and conditioning staff, when he was among the league’s elite. Last season, having made the decision to get bigger as he tried to add more power to his game, Miller checked in following his suspension at about 270 pounds.
While he flashed his potential at times and affected offenses, he was not the explosive, have-to-block-him guy he had been the season before. He had five sacks in nine games in his return from his suspension before suffering his injury against the Texans. Or, as one of his former teammates said, "He went from special, really special, to just pretty good."
“I feel like my confidence has never swayed," Miller said recently. "I definitely have confidence in myself, and it never swayed, and I think that’s what’s gotten me to this point now, going through like the ACL and everything. You definitely question a lot of stuff, and you have to dig deep and realize what really makes you go. For me, it was just being able to have the opportunity to play football and have the opportunity to be the best and that’s what gets me going."
It all means the Broncos are tinkering with all kinds of plans for Ware and Miller in the pass rush, including some with the two on the same side of the formation as they did when they were drawing up ideas to use with Miller and Elvis Dumervil.
In the end, the proof will always be in how Miller conducts himself on and off the field, in whether he lives the words he has spoken about wanting to have more in his football career than he’s had, and that he understands the opportunity he has.
But it’s safe to say, as the Broncos have crossed their collective fingers to this point, they’ve liked what they’ve seen so far.