ENGLEWOOD -- A year ago Wednesday, Von Miller stared into space, struggling to grapple the reality of his situation. As the Broncos' best and most well-known player, he was accustomed to being in the center of everything — from locker room conversation to on-field disruption.
As he fell to the turf in the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse in a non-contact drill, teammates were stunned. Based on Von's reaction it could only mean the worst had happened. Miller dislocated his left ankle tendon, requiring surgery on Sept. 11 that sidelined him for the entire 2020 season.
At age 32, he returns on the final year of his contract, eager to punch Father Time in the throat. Miller enters a crossroads at peace as a new father — "It’s an honor and privilege to be (Valor's) dad”— and a man with a renewed perspective about enjoying the game.
Anyone who watched Miller this summer believes he can rebound. His bend is back. His leverage is real. His burst is lethal.
“It’s a totally different Von,” Miller said.
Miller switched his offseason routine. He over-trained before last season, which might have contributed to his injury. This year he returned to Denver three weeks before camp, and paced and acclimated himself. The goal was to be ready for the opener, not report day. Watching Von in practice against the Vikings a month ago eliminated any doubts I had about his comeback. His teammates believe what their eyes are telling them.
"I think we say this about Tom Brady who gets older and older and older. There are certain guys who just have that knack. Obviously, Tom looks better now than when he came out of college. And Von at times has been in best shape of his life. He’s a new father, he has a new passion and drive to play for. I am super excited to see him back," said Brandon McManus — he and Von are the remaining members of the Super Bowl 50 team — to Denver7 on Thursday.
"I know he gets upset when people bring up the age and I know it’s a thing you guys have to do. But, there are definitely people in this world who are freak athletes and can do anything and he’s one of them."
All signs point toward a rebound campaign, and easing concerns about the tread left on his tires and his future in Denver. But, like the team for which he serves as captain, Von, even as a future Hall of Famer, must prove it. His play against the Los Angeles Rams in the preseason finale buoyed his confidence.
"To me, I feel like the old Von has never left. I still feel like I got a little bit more. If I can get a sack and they go crazy out there, I feel like I could do more. If I’m not winning the game single handedly, I still feel like I can do more of this. That’s all I want to do is make game changing plays for my teammates," Miller said. "Whether that’s a run or a pass or a play action or any play. I hold myself to a super high standard. I know you guys hold us to a super high standard but I feel like I hold myself way higher."
Aside from playing on turf, the Giants represent an ideal opponent for Von to launch like Bezos back into the NFL's top stratosphere. The Giants were bad last year. Like the Broncos, they own a streak of four straight losing seasons. There are a number of reasons they have become lost in this morass, but the offensive line is chief among them.
The Giants' ability to improve hinges on a group that allowed 50 sacks last season -- tied for second worst -- with starter Daniel Jones tagged for 45 of them. Recent draft picks have not panned out, leaving the Giants challenged and vulnerable to regression.
Left tackle Andrew Thomas, a former Georgia star, has struggled as a first-round choice. He brings strength and size, but he reaches and finds himself out of position with inconsistent technique. Pro Football Focus graded him as the 59th best tackle last season.
Matt Peart, who is competing with former CU star Nate Solder for the right tackle spot, boasts one career start. Solder opted out last season, and is a natural left tackle. The Giants moved on from Cam Fleming, a current Broncos backup.
Even if Bradley Chubb does not play or is limited because of a left ankle injury, this remains a delicious matchup for Von. Not only is the Giants' offensive line a question, but so is the running game. Standout Saquon Barkley is not expected to carry a full workload 11 months after an October ACL reconstruction and meniscus repair. Make the Giants one dimensional, and Von could — or should — write a diary of havoc.
Von is an artist with the strip sack. Jones has fumbled 29 times and thrown 22 interceptions in his first two seasons.
And remember, Von has bathed in the opening day spotlight before. He owns six sacks in eight first games, including three against the Seahawks.
"There's nothing he can't do," McManus said. "I know I am his biggest fan and will be rooting for him to have a great year."
Outside linebacker Bradley Chubb (left ankle) was a limited participant at Thursday's practice. During the media viewing period, he showed better agility moving side-to-side than on Wednesday. ...
Rookie corner Pat Surtain II admitted it's been a challenge learning multiple positions in Vic Fangio's defense, but said, "it's made me better." ...
Left tackle Garett Bolles was asked about no offensive linemen being named a captain. "I just work here." But Bolles added that he's ready to change this team's narrative. "This losing stuff that’s been going on the past couple of years, we’re done with that."