ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Peyton Manning barely had a chance to backpedal two steps after taking the snap Friday when Von Miller slapped his shoulder as he flew past him after slicing through the line untouched.
Seven months post-surgery, Miller is showing flashes of his old self and looks determined to atone for a trouble-filled 2013 season that began with a six-game drug suspension and ended with a torn right ACL in Week 16.
“I feel like I can play,” Miller said. “I feel good where I’m at. I feel great physically and mentally. There’s always more you can do, and I feel like I’m not all the way there yet. But I feel I can play.”
Displaying his old form in 1-on-1 pass-rushing drills and 11-on-11 team drills, it’s apparent we’re seeing the Von Miller of old, the one who set a franchise record with 18½ sacks in 2012, not the player who was bogged down by extra pounds and the weight of the world last season when he managed just five sacks.
“If you mean the suddenness and the ability to bend and those things we appreciate and love from him, then yes,” Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. “I think he is working his way back and is doing a good job with the way we have increased his work load and the way he’s been able to handle it.
“I said it earlier in camp that I have no question in my mind that Von Miller will be back to his old self.”
With training camp wrapping up Friday — next week the Houston Texans come in for three days of joint practices leading up to the third preseason game — the Broncos are starting to look like they’ll have the defense GM John Elway envisioned after retooling his roster following that Super Bowl blowout.
His marquee free agent signing was former Dallas Cowboys star DeMarcus Ware, who will team up with Miller to give the Broncos a 1-2 pass-rushing punch they haven’t had since Elvis Dumervil was in Denver.
Miller introduced his mother, Gloria, to Ware after Friday’s practice.
“DeMarcus is her second-favorite player in the league, and she wanted to meet him,” Miller said. “This is the last day of camp, so I brought him over and let him meet my mom. She’s a huge Dallas Cowboys fan, too.”
Actually, it’s not just Miller and Ware.
It’s a three-man wrecking crew with the impressive Quanterus Smith, who missed all of his rookie season last year while recovering from a knee injury in college, that the Broncos will count on as the fulcrum of their defensive rebound in 2014.
Ware, coming off an injury-filled season himself, was coveted by Elway not only for the havoc he can create on the field but for his locker room leadership, which could help keep Miller out of trouble.
It’s been a two-way street, though, with Miller being the mentor at times, too.
“This is my third year in the system. I was coaching him up on plays because I’m familiar,” Miller said.
Miller’s strong showing at practice and Ware’s impressive debut in the preseason — when he had a sack and two stops on the first three plays against Seattle — are two of the top story lines at a camp that was unusually quiet.
Fans were kept away because of construction at the team’s training complex, and the Broncos only lost one starter to a significant injury, linebacker Danny Trevathan (leg), who is expected to miss the first two or three regular-season games.
The biggest difference with camp over is that players won’t have the evening walk-throughs every other day, so they’ll get to leave work at 3 or 4 in the afternoon instead of 11 at night.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” safety T.J. Ward said. “We got to get out of the hotel and it’s not as long of a day, but we’re still preparing in that mindset. I’m just glad I get to go home and sleep in my own bed.”
With Miller and Ware gelling so well, Elway must be sleeping easier himself these days.
Notes: WR Emmanuel Sanders (strained thigh) was held out of practice along with TE Virgil Green (strained calf). DT Marvin Austin (sprained wrist) was held out of the last period. … Manning’s college teammate Todd Helton, whose No. 17 will be retired by the Colorado Rockies on Sunday, paid a visit.
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