ENGLEWOOD, Colo. - Von Miller no longer looks like the NFL's version of the Incredible Hulk, or a man carrying a heavy burden on his ever-expanding shoulders.
After a rough 2013 season that started with a six-game drug suspension and ended with a blown-out knee that sidelined him for the Super Bowl, the Broncos pass-rusher is more than 20 pounds lighter and has rediscovered his joviality with reporters.
The drop in weight into the 240s after hitting 270 last year is a byproduct of his rehab from surgery in January to repair his torn right ACL.
His resurrected smile stems from his return to the football field, where he's doing individual drills with his teammates during Denver's offseason practices, and retreating to the sideline to work on things with a strength and conditioning coach during team drills.
Adding to this bliss is the thought of playing alongside his hero, DeMarcus Ware, who signed with Denver in the offseason. And the Broncos exercising their fifth-year option on Miller, who will make $9.75 million in 2015 if he's on their roster next March, a three-fold increase in his $3.25 million salary this season.
Miller was John Elway's first draft pick and had 30 sacks his first two seasons, including a club record 18½ in 2012. He had just five sacks in nine games last season, but Elway said this spring he believes Miller, who turned 25 recently, has matured and will put last year behind him.
"It definitely makes me feel good knowing that the organization is behind me and they trust me and they believe in me, especially through all the stuff that I've been through," Miller said after Wednesday's workout. "It makes me want to go out there even more to prove to those guys, not anything on the field, but prove to those guys that I'm the guy that they can trust and I'm the guy that they can believe in.
"I want to be that guy and I want to show it on the field. Not only on the field, but coaching up the young guys and show them that I can be here and I'm going to be here for a long time."
Although Miller still walks with a limp, it's becoming less noticeable by the week. He's on target to return to full workouts by August.
He said he continues to hit signposts on his long road back.
"I feel good about the way my recovery is going," Miller said.
And about the way his career appears back on track.
"I've been through a whole bunch and to still be here and still have everything that was set out before (and) to still be able to get it now, this is a true blessing," Miller said. "... I love coming to work — not like I didn't love coming to work before, but I just have a huge opportunity ... I'm living the dream. I'm in a great spot in my life."
The Broncos are counting on Ware being the kind of positive influence on Miller that Elvis Dumervil was before he bolted to Baltimore last offseason. Miller certainly seems willing to listen to the man he patterned his game after as a fan of the Cowboys while growing up in Dallas.
"It's like DeMarcus already knows what I'm asking before I even ask it," Miller said. "I walk up to him and he's like a psychic. ... He just explains it so well. He's a great teacher and it's different from any other relationship that I've had with anyone else.
"I've looked up to DeMarcus. I'm not afraid to say it: I want to be like DeMarcus Ware."
That's music to Elway, who last year called Miller the best football player he's ever seen.
Despite all the troubles that 2013 would bring, Miller said he never doubted himself, insisting, "I feel like my confidence has never swayed."
What has vacillated wildly is his weight.
Last year, he packed on the pounds, but the added muscle in his upper body appeared to slow him down. The extra pounds might even have played a role in his knee injury when his right knee buckled in a game at Houston in December.
Miller called his weight gain "just experimentation" and acknowledged Wednesday for the first time that it "didn't work as well as I thought it would. I think me being able to be lighter is just better for me."