ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – The Denver Broncos finally have their whole gang back together on defense.
All-Pro linebacker Von Miller returned to practice this week after serving his six-game drug suspension, and he was joined by Wesley Woodyard (stinger), Robert Ayers(shoulder) and Sylvester Williams (neck), who had been sidelined by injuries.
Champ Bailey shook off the rust last week when he played for the first time since hurting his left foot in August.
“I say the more the merrier, the more the better,” defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson said. “I’m glad all of them are healthy and ready to contribute.”
Starting Sunday night against the Indianapolis Colts (4-2), the Broncos (6-0) figure they’ll finally start playing defense like they did last year, when they were ranked near the top of the league in every major defensive category. They have nosedived to 29th overall this season, and they’re last in the league against the pass.
“He’s going to make a huge difference,” cornerback Chris Harris said of Miller. “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 is up 15 pounds from last year to 270, he told The Associated Press this week, but his coaches said he’s carrying that extra weight well and hasn’t lost any speed or explosiveness.
“He’s looked good,” Bailey said. “He looks fresh and ready to go. He’s hungry so I’m anxious to see him play.”
So is defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.
“Obviously when you have your better players out there you expect to play better,” Del Rio said. “As far as defense, I feel like we got a good group of guys. We’re going to be better as we go through the year. Some of the places where we’re not playing so well now right now I feel very confident we’ll continue to grow and play good defense as we go down the road here.”
Miller is the fulcrum of Del Rio’s offense, constantly drawing double teams and freeing up his teammates to make plays when he’s not blowing up the plays himself.
“Not to give away our game plan, but he does give us many more options to do different things on defense,” Bailey “But you know, when you have a guy that talented you’ve got to find ways to make sure he’s involved with every play. So he’s going to be involved a lot.”
Miller’s teammates say he hasn’t looked at all rusty at practice.
“Von is Von. He loves rushing. That’s what he’s been doing, he’s been rushing. But the most important thing, he didn’t have any mess-ups in coverage,” Woodyard said. “That’s always great to know that he’s on-point with his game plan.”
Colts coach Chuck Pagano called Miller a “game-wrecker” and one with fresh legs, no less.
“We know what he did last year, I don’t know what the total was but I know it was a lot,” Pagano said of Miller’s franchise-record 18 1/2 sacks. “The guy’s a phenomenal, phenomenal football player, so we’ve got to make proper adjustments and we got to have a plan to take care of him.”
On offense, Louis Vasquez will make his first career start at right tackle Sunday night. He slid over from right guard when Orlando Franklin sprained his left ankle last weekend against Jacksonville. Chris Kuper filled in at right guard.
Vasquez has made all 60 of his career starts at guard and never started at tackle at Texas Tech, although he played some on the left edge in college.
The Broncos gave him some snaps at right tackle last summer.
“He’s a big, physical guy. He’s got long arms,” coach John Fox said.
Also this week, center J.D. Walton returned to practice for the first time since undergoing another ankle surgery in June, starting the clock on a three-week window in which the Broncos can either activate him or place him on IR.
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
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