ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Von Miller no longer carries all those extra pounds or the weight of the world.
He’s back at his natural position and size and his playfulness and smile are back, too.
The Denver Broncos star linebacker has been discharged from the NFL’s drug program after staying clean for two years, meaning he’s no longer subject to regular, random urine testing.
“Yeah, I mean, it is nice. But things don’t change. I’m still the same guy I was at the beginning of this year. I’m still grinding,” Miller said Sunday night.
He’s not in the mood to celebrate his newfound freedom – a chance he was given when the NFL and the players union hammered out a revised drug policy last fall.
“It’s not time to start the confetti and the balloons,” Miller said. “I mean, I’ve still got a long way to go, we’ve still got a long way to go on defense. I’ve still got a long way to go to be the type of player I want to be for this organization and that’s where my mind’s at right now.
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“All that other stuff, it’s cool. But I had already come to camp with my mind in the moment and with my guys and wanting to get everybody else better and wanting to inspire everybody else to let this year be the year.”
Miller served a six-game drug suspension and the league placed him in Stage 3 of its intervention program in 2013.
Before the drug policy was rewritten, Miller would have had the threat of an indefinite suspension hanging over him his entire career. Now, players in Stage 3 can earn their discharge from the program by staying clean for 24 months, as Miller did.
In other words, it’s a carrot hanging over them, not an anvil.
His discharge from the program comes at a great time for Miller, who is entering his contract year.
Miller, making $9.754 million this year, can become a free agent after the season if the Broncos don’t place their franchise tag on him.
He’ll almost certainly seek a contract like the one Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston signed last month – $101 million over six years with more than half of that guaranteed.
Miller said he was happy for Houston, but not because he set the benchmark for his own megadeal.
“I was glad for just Justin in general,” Miller said. “I know Justin personally.”
Without the threat of a suspension hanging over him, Miller can command a heftier contract when his agent, Joby Branion, and the Broncos begin negotiations.
Houston has 48 1/2 sacks in 59 games. Miller has 49 sacks in 56 games – and he’s played strongside linebacker and often dropped into coverage more than Houston has.
Miller was the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2011 and in `12 was runner-up to J.J. Watt for Defensive Player of the Year honors. He rebounded from his drug suspension and a torn ACL in 2013 with 14 sacks last season, when he re-established himself as one of the league’s premier pass-rushers.
Miller, who’s moving back to his natural position at outside linebacker in the 3-4 after playing strongside linebacker under the old regime, asked new coach Gary Kubiak to address the rookies recently. He’s also regularly tutoring first-round draft pick Shane Ray.
“I’m really proud of him,” Kubiak said. “He grew up, he came through college, he came here, had a couple things going on that he had to grow through, and now I sit here and watch him and he’s a leader every day on the field and off the field.”
– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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