ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The extra pounds are gone and so is the weight off Von Miller’s shoulders.
Denver’s slimmed-down strongside linebacker has bounced back from the worst year of his career to make 13 sacks and regain his status as one of the NFL’s premier pass rushers. He’s one of a league-high nine Broncos who were named to the Pro Bowl this week.
“It means a lot. Going through all the stuff I went through last year, it really helped me put my priorities in order,” Miller said. “Last year I didn’t make the Pro Bowl. It’s just such an extreme honor to get voted by your peers, coaches and fans. So I’m definitely more appreciative of it this year than I ever have been before.”
Miller’s 2013 season began with a six-game drug suspension and ended with him watching the Super Bowl from the sideline after blowing out his right knee in December. In between, he tallied just five sacks in nine games.
Miller had bulked up by 25 pounds last season. That extra weight made him top heavy and might even have contributed to his torn right ACL in December. He’s back down to 245 and is every bit the star he was in 2011, when he was the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, and in 2012, when he was runner-up to J.J. Watt for Defensive Player of the Year honors.
GM John Elway, who made Miller his first ever draft pick in 2011, last spring signed free agent DeMarcus Ware, who was Miller’s idol growing up in Dallas, giving Miller a pass-rushing partner like he had early in his career with Elvis Dumervil.
Together, they have 23 sacks, 29 tackles for loss, 43 quarterback hurries, three pass breakups, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and an interception heading into the season finale against Oakland (3-12) with a first-round bye on the line for Denver (11-4).
Coach John Fox said he’s noticed a more mature Miller this season, one who has learned his lessons from last year and rededicated himself both on both a physical and mental level.
“Without a doubt. Like most things, the more you do it the better you get. And obviously you’re going to have mistakes or setbacks throughout any career, but he’s done a tremendous job and going through that I think has helped him,” Fox said.
Like Miller, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. needed ACL surgery in the offseason and he went to Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, Florida, for his operation in February, a month after Andrews fixed Miller’s knee.
Harris and Miller then spent six months together rehabbing and plotting their comebacks in 2014. Harris was out to prove his 2013 breakout season was no fluke and Miller was determined to show his 2013 season was an aberration.
They’ve succeeded on both accounts, just as they correctly predicted Pro Bowl seasons for each other back in the summer when both were slowly working their way back onto the football field.
“We already knew 58 was going to be in” the Pro Bowl again, Harris said. “If he comes back to halfway normal, he’s going to be in there. This is a great honor just to be there with him. We worked so hard to come back here and to be better players and it was so tough.
“I’ll never forget just watching the AFC Championship on the sideline with him being like, ‘This is the worst thing ever.’ And then coming back and making it to the Pro Bowl with him this year, it’s like night and day.”
Notes: Fox was thrilled to hear QB Peyton Manning’s proclamation that he’ll return to Denver next season “if the Broncos will have me.” Of course, they will, Fox said Thursday: “I would say when you’re kind of a top three quarterback in the league, maybe the top of all time, I’d say it’s a pretty good likelihood,” Fox cracked. “He’s had a tremendous year, there’s no doubt. We’ve still got things to get done and we’re looking forward to that opportunity.” … LB Brandon Marshall (foot) worked with a strength and conditioning coach on the side during practice. “He’s making progress for sure,” Fox said. The Broncos plan to have Marshall, their leading tackler, back for the playoffs. A win Sunday would give Denver a first-round bye and Marshall another week to get better.
By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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