ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — John Elway thought it was appropriate that his first draft pick, pass-rusher Von Miller, wanted to wear No. 58, because his build and his game remind so many people of the late Derrick Thomas of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Elway admitted the very thought gave him some unpleasant flashbacks to his playing days: “It did, I said, ‘Don’t walk behind me,”‘ the Denver Broncos chief of football operations cracked.
Actually, the Broncos expect Miller to be front and center as they embark on a voyage out of the franchise’s darkest days.
Coming off their worst season in their 51-year history, the Broncos bypassed Alabama run-stuffer Marcell Dareus to select Miller, the most dynamic pass-rusher in the draft, with the second overall pick.
“We needed a tackle, but what Von brought, he was the best fit for us,” said Elway, who called Miller a once-in-a-decade talent.
Elway said many times before and after the draft that when watching film, viewers didn’t need to be looking out for the Aggies’ No. 40 because Miller was quite simply the fastest one on the field and wasted no time in announcing his presence with his unparalleled play.
Upon his whirlwind visit to the team’s Dove Valley headquarters on Friday, Miller, who has the size (6-foot-3, 237 pounds) and speed (4.53 seconds in the 40-yard dash) to torment offensive linemen and quarterbacks, asked the Broncos if he could wear No. 58 just like Thomas did with the AFC rival Chiefs.
“I liked it,” Elway said. “I thought it was great. I thought it was the perfect number for him.”
“As a quarterback, he’s one of those guys that terrorizes, especially because he’s coming off the back side,” Elway said. “There were a couple of times I was watching film and it was actually amusing to me to watch how bad he would beat these tackles.”
Miller led the nation in sacks in 2009 with 17 but decided to return to Texas A&M for his senior season, and Aggies coach Mike Sherman, who used to coach the Green Bay Packers, moved him from defensive end to hybrid linebacker to capitalize on what he called his “freakish athletic ability.”
He had 10 1/2 sacks as a senior even though a high ankle sprain limited him for the first month of the season.
Sherman finds it difficult to compare Miller to anybody: “Derrick Thomas, I mean, he was a phenomenal athlete. But it’s hard to label this guy. He’s unique. I’ve never seen a guy have such a burst and a low center of gravity, tremendous balance.”
And he’s just gotten started, Sherman said.
“He’s had three different defenses in four years he was here and once he’s in a system and a scheme and he can really learn the ins and outs, I just think he’s going to continue to get better,” Sherman said. “He’s just a freakish athlete. I mean, I’ve never seen a guy like him. He could have been our tailback. He could have been an All-American tight end. He could return punts and kickoffs. He’s just a phenomenal athlete.
“Even more than that for me, he’s a great locker room guy. He brings guys together. Teammates just absolutely love this guy. He’s not selfish. It’s never about him or stats. It’s about the team.”
Miller calls Sherman’s tutelage “an extreme blessing,” but their relationship had some rocky moments early on.
Photo Gallery: Broncos 2011 Draft
In 2008, Sherman suspended Miller from spring drills indefinitely because of poor performance in the classroom and on the practice field. Miller packed up his bags and started home to DeSoto, Texas, intent on transferring to another school.
His father called him and told him to turn around.
“Back in high school, I (also) wanted to transfer when I got moved to defensive end,” Miller said. “I guess that was a good decision for him to keep me there, too.”
Upon his return to campus in College Station, “I started from ground zero and I came back with a new sense of accountability and integrity and responsibility to my teammates and my coaches,” Miller said.
Sherman now had the dedicated star athlete he wanted, and Miller started every game over his final three seasons.
“Nobody’s perfect, but he’s learned along the way,” Sherman said. “And I really thought he embraced it this year more than any year. I really think he stepped up and really blossomed this year.
“I’ve never seen a kid grow up so much in a year’s time. We talked about how if he came back, we were going to work him hard. We were going to be more demanding of him, we were going to be on him all the time. And we weren’t going to make it easy on him, and he still came back and went through that.”
Miller said he benefited both as a person and a player for sticking around his senior season.
“I matured a lot, and I was a team captain my senior year, which I am very, very grateful for,” he said. “I was able to mentor some of the younger guys there, and I think it helped a lot coming back for my senior year. It allowed me another year to mature and get ready for this league.”
Miller’s decision means he’s entering the NFL at a time when a rookie wage scale might be put in place.
Depending on what happens with the league’s labor impasse, Miller could be in line for more than $70 million over five years or, if owners get their scale, maybe $20 million over four.
“It really never was for the money for me,” Miller said. “My mom and dad, they are not millionaires or anything like that, but I’ve been blessed to have a financially stable household where I could just focus and play football.”
Miller is more intimately involved in the league’s labor stalemate than any of the 253 other players who were drafted last weekend. He’s a plaintiff in the antitrust lawsuit players filed to block the lockout, something that’s already put him in good standing with the veterans.
“That means a lot to a guy like me, and a guy like Brian Dawkins, that he’s willing to stand up for what’s right,” Broncos defensive end Robert Ayers said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)