CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Down in the corner of the practice field, 20 minutes before the start of practice, Von Miller pulled at the tape on his wrist, bobbed his head and settled under the football. Fielding kicks features players who are trying to accelerate their learning curve or provide a glimpse of potential that might help them make the team.
This is no place for a three-time All-Pro outside linebacker. But truth is, Miller fits everywhere. He catches punts, runs upfield on kicks, and, in his full-time job, bends his body like The Matrix, his elusiveness leaving tackles grasping at air.
"Same ol', same ol," Miller insisted. "Nothing has really changed."
Yet, everything feels different. In Year 2 AP (After Peyton), Miller has emerged as the undisputed Face of the Franchise. Don't believe it. Don't watch Miller. Watch the fans. See how they interact with him. Listen to how they cheer his every move. The NFLPA released jersey sales figures on Tuesday, and Miller ranks 13th in the league, and first among defenders.
He transcends football. He has become an organic celebrity, which seemed a dangerous proposition three years ago, but now fits his personality like the gloves he wears to rip through opposing linemen.
"I guess people are starting to see it a little more. Every year we have the crowd out here, I love interacting with them. Spraying water on them. I should bring a water gun. They come a long way just to see us practice for two years. They get here at 7:30 in the morning before we even get here," Miller said. "When they come all the way out here, I have to give them something."
At 28, Miller enters his prime poised to make the Hall of Fame. His 73.5 sacks are the sixth most in NFL history through six seasons. He's not in Canton, but he can see it from here, especially after he rededicated himself this offseason. No longer burdened or distracted by contract talks -- he signed a six-year, $114.5 million deal with $70 million guaranteed last July -- Miller tightened the vice. He improved his diet, checking in at 6.3 percent body fat. He added muscle created from torturous workouts designed to shock the system. His Instagram page documented his runs through the sand, and relentless climbing.
"My trainer will say, 'Run the stairs.' He's not telling you, 'Give me 10 stairs.' You just keep running. So over time you develop this mentality that you are just here to work," Miller said. "And that's the mentality I want on the football field. It doesn't matter if it's the first quarter, second quarter, fourth quarter or overtime. It doesn't matter if I have been out there eight plays, I just want to keep going and going. And that's the most positive thing I got from working out (this offseason)."
Teammates marvel at Miller's athleticism. He is an alpha male with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle legs and the bend and balance of a Cirque du Soleil performer. Multiple players told Denver7 they believe Miller can win Defensive Player of the Year honors because he's in better shape than a year ago when he finished second in the voting to Oakland's Khalil Mack. They see a laser focus, and a determination to win every drill. Like Mack, Miller believes a 30 sack season is within reach, which would demolish Michael Strahan's record of 22.5 set in 2001.
"I think it is realistic. You have to get 10 in that first month, which is doable, 10 in the first five games," Miller explained. "Teams are going to chip you. That's just the gospel right there. You have to take advantage of your opportunities. If you get five open rushes, you have to win all five, and you might get two-to-three sacks. That's the math I do on it."
When Miller talks about 30, it seems reasonable. History says it's not. And not because of Miller's talent. Without Shane Ray (wrist injury) and Shaquil Barrett (hip) for the first two regular-season games, and DeMarcus Ware retired, Miller will double-teamed from the moment he steps out of the lockerroom. He totaled 13.5 sacks a year ago, five shy of his career-high established in 2012. Securing 20 seems possible, perhaps predictable.
"Everybody saw the offseason training regime he put himself through," Ray said. "And that's all because he wants to be defensive player of the year and be the best, if not the greatest to ever play our position."
For now, he's quickly becoming one of the most popular players to wear a Broncos uniform.