ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Von Miller is back – and bigger than ever.
His coach and his teammates said Denver’s All-Pro linebacker looked great Wednesday in his first practice since serving his six-game drug abuse suspension – all 270 pounds of him.
That’s how much Miller said he weighed in at this week, a good 24 pounds heavier than when he won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2011.
Miller has long wanted to gain weight because he figures it will help him overpower offensive linemen. Six weeks of watching games on his TV gave him that chance, although by all accounts he was far from a couch potato during his banishment for violating the league’s drug-abuse policy.
Miller said he had no trouble with the extra muscle or the altitude because he served his suspension working with the Broncos’ trainers, a nutritionist and a personal pass rush specialist so that his cardiovascular conditioning wouldn’t be an issue upon his return.
“I feel good. I’m in the best shape of my life,” Miller said. “I feel a lot stronger, quicker, faster. It’s not like I’m running 100 yards or 400 yards there, so I definitely felt good. All the feedback I was getting from my teammates and everybody looked like I was good. There was a hurry-up period in there that was tough, but that’s what it’s designed to be is tough.”
Coach John Fox said Miller “had an outstanding practice. Obviously he’s got fresh legs and ready to roll and excited about the opportunity this week.”
Safety Rahim Moore said, “I’m quite sure he misses the game a lot but he hasn’t missed a step. He had a great practice today. He looked good. I’m looking forward to watching him play.”
The Broncos may have gone 6-0 in Miller’s absence, but they sorely missed him disrupting quarterbacks – they’re ranked dead last in the league in pass defense.
“He’s going to make a huge difference,” cornerback Chris Harris said. “Teams have just been coming out and saying, `It’s going to be seven on seven, we’re just going to throw the ball.’ If they come out and do that now, we have our rusher now to where they can’t just sit back and pass the ball all day like that.”
Miller was clearly relieved to return to practice and answer questions about football after months of stories about his suspension and about traffic tickets.
“I feel stronger just all around, mentally, physically, all around,” Miller said. “When you don’t have to worry about nothing, it’s just football, it’s a whole lot easier. I’ve been studying and everything. I just feel good. I’ve said it before. I’m in a great place physically and mentally.”
Miller said he’s been “paying attention in meetings, even more so than I would do normally. But I was ready to go. I wanted to make sure when I came back that I wasn’t a step behind. If anything, I’ve been conditioning and working out and doing everything possible to get myself ready for practice and the games.”
Miller also spent a week during his suspension working with renowned pass-rush specialist Chuck Smith, a former defensive end with the Atlanta Falcons.
“Definitely working with a guy that focuses on pass rush, especially for me while I had all this time off to focus on that, it was instrumental,” Miller said. “He didn’t try to change me; he just helped me.”
The Broncos also welcomed back middle linebacker Wesley Woodyard (shoulder stringer) and defensive end Robert Ayers (shoulder) back to practice after both missed a week.
Miller, who had 30 sacks in his first two seasons, including a franchise-record 18 1/2 last season, makes his debut Sunday against the Colts (4-2) in Peyton Manning’s return to Indianapolis.
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
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