ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Broncos coach John Fox has made it pretty clear he wants to get Von Miller as much work as possible, even with a six-game suspension on the horizon for the two-time Pro Bowl selection.
And it's pretty clear when Fox does that it means somebody else isn't getting the work. A tough call, but Fox has elected to keep Miller engaged and with the starters as the suspension nears.
Fox has had to weigh the benefits of working Miller in the starting defense now to better prepare Miller for his scheduled return to the field in Week 7, against the snaps that could have gone to players elsewhere on the developmental curve. Because every snap Miller takes in practice, as well as in the preseason games, is a snap that didn’t go to one of the Broncos younger, less experienced players.
Fox said following the league’s announcement of the suspension he would play Miller against the Rams this past Saturday and he did just that, starting Miller in the game. Miller finished with 18 snaps on defense. Miller will also play Thursday night against the Cardinals in the preseason finale and will officially begin his suspension Saturday.
But as Fox explained it this past weekend, Miller has a six-game suspension and “I wasn’t going to make it eight."
All of that said, however, it has really been injuries to Robert Ayers (Achilles/ankle) and Derek Wolfe (neck) that have made it possible for the Broncos to work Miller and still get the linebackers the work they need to cover for his absence. Miller played at defensive end against the Rams and is expected to do that against the Cardinals as well. Miller worked with the starters at defensive end in Monday’s practice, with veteran Shaun Phillips at the other defensive end spot, while Wesley Woodyard, Nate Irving (in Miller’s strong-side linebacker spot) and Danny Trevathan worked at linebacker in base defense.
Malik Jackson, a fifth-round pick in the 2012 draft, has also gotten plenty of work with Wolfe and Ayers being out. Like they do with Wolfe, the Broncos like Jackson’s potential because he can play on the interior in the defensive line and at end.
Broncos running back coach Eric Studesville may grow hoarse as he tries to get the message across, but with the regular season closing in, pass protection will continue to be a huge piece of the decision about who plays at running back for the Broncos. And it’s why Knowshon Moreno has steadily worked his way into the conversation and earned a selection of snaps with the starters over the last week, including in the 2-minute drill to close out the first half this past Saturday night against the Rams. Rookie Montee Ball has surrendered the biggest hit on quarterback Peyton Manning in the preseason with Ball’s missed protection assignment against the Seahawks. Asked Monday, after he had taken the majority of snaps with the first-team offense in practice, if Manning had said anything to him after the play, Ball said; “No, he didn’t have to. Coach E (Studesville), he did a great job being the coach the he needed to be and he was yelling at me, screaming at me, which was most definitely needed.’’
With the first round of cuts having been made and Omar Bolden (ankle) out of practice, Quentin Jammer had the opportunity to try to show the team’s coaches he can be an option at cornerback. Jammer had been signed in the offseason to primarily be a coverage safety who could line up and handle some cornerback duties in situational work from time to time. But Jammer played at cornerback against the Rams and lined up there exclusively in Monday’s practice. It will be a big week for Jammer as he is likely on the bubble to make the 53-man roster, so any multi-tasking skills will help his cause. At one point the secondary for the second-team defense was Jammer and rookie Kayvon Webster at cornerback with David Bruton and undrafted rookie Ross Rasner at the two safety spots. Rasner has caught the team’s eye and certainly is, a quality practice squad candidate if he can’t wedge his way into what will be the most difficult position group for the Broncos to make the cuts.
Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker, who was held out of Saturday’s game because of an ankle injury he suffered in Seattle, was back with the starters in Monday’s practice. He, like most of the Broncos regulars, is not expected to play in Thursday night’s preseason finale.
Cornerback Champ Bailey (foot), safety Quinton Carter (knee) and tight end Joel Dreessen (knee) did not participate in Monday’s practice. Bailey and Dreessen continue to work toward trying to get back for the regular-season opener. Even with Julius Thomas’ emergence in the passing game for the Broncos as a tight end who can line up on the line as well as out wide and in the slot, Dreessen is still the team’s best receiver/blocker combination and the offense will need him, especially out of the three-wide receiver set against the better pass-rush teams.