Von Miller hosted a pass-rushing summit in Las Vegas this past weekend, and just about everyone who’s anyone in the NFL’s quarterback-crunching community was there.
Miller’s Broncos teammate and padawan Bradley Chubb attended. So did 2018 Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and Rams teammate Michael Brockers. Saints All-Pro defender Cameron Jordan showed up, as did his protege Marcus Davenport. Chiefs defensive ends Frank Clark and Alex Okafor were there. Former Broncos and Cowboys great Demarcus Ware was on hand to provide pointers.
Even Doug Flutie was there, sharing some quarterback secrets. Flutie must have felt like a cat in a house full of Rottweilers and rocking chairs, but he probably spent his whole career feeling that way.
Miller’s third annual summit was a who’s who of ornery sackmeisters (and one prominent sack target), all of them sharing tips and tricks of the trade with the Broncos’ future Hall of Famer.
It’s no wonder so many quarterbacks are chugging beers these days.
The Broncos and their fans must be thrilled to see Miller striving to take his game to an even higher level. They may also be wishing Miller wasn’t bringing every defender in the league with him. Chiefs pass-rushers at a summit led by a Broncos superstar? Is Miller trying to get Joe Flacco killed? Keep it in the family, Von!
Rivalries aside, the professionalism of Miller and his peers is admirable. A little collegiality among competitors makes everyone better. And there aren’t many other people on earth besides the likes of Donald, Jordan and Ware who can give Miller pointers.
At any rate, the Broncos shouldn’t worry about what other defenders are learning from Miller. What matters is Miller’s commitment to getting better, because the Broncos are counting on their Hall of Famer to lead them back to Super Bowl contention in the near future.
The Hall of Famer refrain is not meant to be some edgy hot take. It’s a simple fact. Miller is a seven-time Pro Bowler, a three-time first-team All-Pro, the 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year, the Super Bowl 50 MVP and a pivotal performer for a team that reached the Super Bowl twice in three years. He is two sacks away from 100 for his career and eight sacks from cracking the all-time top 25, but sack totals are just padding for his portfolio. Even if he retired tomorrow, he would waltz into Canton in a few years.
David Zalubowski/Associated Press
But Miller’s impressive Hall of Fame credentials are also a reminder that he is now 30 years old. The 2011-15 Broncos glory years are receding into the past. Miller is coming off three seasons of personal excellence lost amid organizational mediocrity, and he faces a foggy future with a new quarterback (Flacco), a new head coach (Vic Fangio) and a locker room with a dwindling number of familiar faces.
The Broncos just restructured a one-year contract for cornerback Chris Harris Jr., one of the handful of other holdovers from the defense that led the team to victory in Super Bowl 50. Even with Miller still at his peak, Harris playing at a Pro Bowl level and Chubb contributing 12 sacks last year, the Broncos defense finished 22nd in the league in yards allowed last season, a far cry from their league-best ranking in 2015.
Despite the recent hard times, no one in Denver is talking about rebuilding or, heaven forbid, mentoring. The Broncos are a veteran team that hopes to contend right away, before Harris and other veterans age or depart.
Fortunately, Miller isn’t acting like someone who’s content to climb the all-time sack leaderboard, collect hefty checks and play out the string.
ESPN.com’s Jeff Legwold reported that when Miller first met Fangio face-to-face, he shook his coach’s hand and said: “Coach me, coach me. I want you to coach me hard, coach me hard.”
Middle school jokes about Miller’s phrasing aside, that must have been music to Fangio’s ears.
For his part, Fangio sounds ready to push a veteran who is eager to be pushed.
“If he does all the little things that are necessary to do that, he’s definitely got a great chance to do that,” Fangio said, per Legwold. “But the little things are going to make the difference for him.”
Miller looks to be in search of any edge he can discover. He told Jon Heath of Broncos Wire that he wanted Flutie to be at the summit so the defenders could learn more about little things from the quarterback’s side.
“I want to know what the quarterback is thinking,” Miller said. “I want to know the difference between two hard counts and going fast or throwing the ball quick. … I want to get that perspective.”
Flutie even told the pass-rushers that they could learn the snap count just by asking the offensive linemen, who will sometimes mistake a defender for a confused teammate in the pre-snap commotion. It sounds like German soldiers asking “How ya’ doing” in English to catch American spies during World War II, or playground basketball wise guys calling for a pass when the clumsy kid on the other team picks up his dribble.
Miller may want to warn the Broncos’ offensive linemen about that trick.
A weekend spent talking inside baseball with his fellow All-Pros could push Miller toward his first 20-sack season, or it could help Miller and Chubb lead the Broncos back toward the 52-sack heights they reached in 2012 and 2015.
The Broncos will need that kind of production from their defense.
Denver acquired Flacco to lead a ball-control offense. Fangio, a longtime defensive coordinator who landed his first head coaching gig this offseason, was hired to return the Broncos defense to greatness. But let’s be real: The Broncos look like .500 also-rans on paper. It will take a signature season from Miller, among others, to change that.
Few teams ask as much from a defender, both as a playmaker and leader, as the Broncos expect from Miller. And with the whole team philosophy built around defense and the final Super Bowl embers fading, Miller is more important than ever.
Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.