SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) – When the NFL turned its anvil into a carrot, giving Von Miller a way out of its drug program, Denver’s star linebacker was free to be himself this season – and was he ever.
Not only did Denver’s loquacious linebacker set the tone for the Broncos’ run to Super Bowl 50 by haunting offensive linemen and hammering quarterbacks, but he loosened the locker room.
He figured the best way to lift up his teammates was with his cutup personality and childlike cheer.
“So, it’s the fourth day of training camp, it’s all rough and everybody’s ready for the preseason, I’m going to come in and make them laugh, probably wear something in here to get everything going,” Miller said.
As in his Russian fur trapper hat or his outlandish cowboys boots.
“And that’s just where my mindset was. I didn’t have to worry about anything else this year other than playing football and being here with my teammates,” Miller said. “So, I really just tried to lose myself in that.”
The NFL changed its drug policy in 2014. Instead of perpetually being one strike — even a missed urine test — away from a lifetime ban from the NFL, Miller was discharged from the league’s drug program last summer after staying clean for two years.
The weight of the world no longer on his shoulders, the locker room became both his den and his Zen.
Equipment guys who are always around long after players have left for the day often would find him hanging out on the leather couch in the locker room watching opponents on his iPad late into the evening.
When he wasn’t picking apart the pixels to find a weak point in a tackle’s technique by night, Miller was taking on all comers in a game of Connect Four during breaks from the weight room and classroom.
“I become the king of the Connect Four probably when I was real young before I even got to Texas A&M and then when I got here we just started playing and we got all these large personalities and everybody thought they were the best – until they played me,” Miller said.
Emmanuel Sanders can give him a run. So can Aqib Talib. But in a seven-game series, even those two concede Miller is the undisputed champ.
“Nobody ever beats me,” Miller said.
Miller laughs at the notion – millionaires playing a kid’s game, “a plastic $5 game, the travel one, at that.”
If he’s not gleefully beating his teammates in the Milton Bradley classic, he’s usually cracking them up with his comedy-club humor or dance moves.
He said Peyton Manning shouldn’t have won his starting job back last month – not that he was sticking up for Brock Osweiler. He insists he was the better option.
“This is how I look at it: I rush the passer, so I have to know everything about the passer. And to do that, I’ve got to become a passer, kind of,” Miller tried to explain.
See the quarterback, be the quarterback.
“Yeah, in my own mind, I’m the passer as I’m rushing the passer,” Miller said. “I thought this was my opportunity. I’ve got to keep grinding. Maybe I’ll get my opportunity in the Super Bowl.”
Like any good funnyman, Miller insists he’s not seeking laughs just for the fun of it.
“I try to always veer out of the moment. So, Coach is in here talking serious about something, I’ll crack a joke to make it just loose and I really don’t know what it is, I’m just being me to the fullest,” Miller said.
“I’ve always been like that – it hasn’t always been positive, you know, it hasn’t always been good. But it’s gotten me to the situation and the moment I’m in right now.”
On the cusp of a championship.
And a huge pay day – as in, nothing less than $100 million over six years.
What’s he going to do with all that money?
Buy more chickens, what else.
Miller, who studied agriculture and life sciences in college, raises dozens of “happy chickens” on his eight-acre estate in Dallas during the offseason. He said he gives his fowl only the best natural feed and even plays music for them – Sade – in their coop while putting them under constant watch.
“Most chicken farms don’t want anything to do with cameras, but I got mine on 24-7 surveillance,” he said.
Miller said it’s not really big enough to call it a “full-out farm,” but he said if he gets a megadeal like J.J. Watt’s or Justin Houston’s “I’ll take it world-wide.”
Get ready to see his happy chickens go global.
“Von can be as good as Von wants to be,” his boss, John Elway said Monday while Miller held court 50 yards away on media day. “I mean, he’s the physically most gifted guy I’ve seen on tape. The things that he can do with the speed and the power and the way he can rush the passer (means) Von can do whatever Von wants to do.”
Including command the biggest contract ever for a sack-master.
It’s too soon for Elway to ponder talks with Houston’s $101 million deal serving as the starting point.
“We haven’t really gotten there yet,” Elway said. “But it’s hard to imagine that he’s not in that range.”
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
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