ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — On Sunday afternoon, more than 1,700 miles from UCHealth Training Center, Phil Mickelson redefined what's possible for athletes of a certain age.
With a two-shot victory at the PGA Championship in Kiawah Island, South Carolina, the nearly 51-year-old player became the oldest golfer to win a major championship.
As Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller returns from last season's season-ending ankle injury, Head Coach Vic Fangio believes Mickelson serves as proof that Miller can still thrive as a 32-year-old pass-rusher. While it may be more physically demanding to take on an offensive tackle than to swing a driver, there remain transferable lessons.
"It's going to be up to him to put in the time and effort in the next few months to get his body right," Fangio said Monday after the team's first practice of organized team activities. "As we saw yesterday in golf, Mickelson proved you can play great, but the one thing he did mention was he's had to work harder and be more committed to his game to achieve that. I think that applies to football players, too — even somebody as talented as Von. You need to do more to maintain that level of play once you start getting into your 30s like he is and playing the position he is. There's no doubt in mind that he can do it. He's just got to do it himself."
Fangio, who said Miller shows "no ill effects" from last year's injury, said he wouldn't put a ceiling on what's possible for Miller and believes he can still play the elite football that he played "four, five, six years ago." Five years ago, of course, Miller lifted a trophy of his own as Super Bowl 50 MVP.
Nine months ago, before Miller suffered his injury during the first practice of the regular season, the three-time first-team All-Pro seemed poised for a strong bounce-back season after posting just eight sacks in 2019. He dominated the Broncos' offensive tackles in training camp and showed a heightened level of focus and drive during the offseason.
Miller said the effort he invested last year was not a "one-year thing" and that he's created a "new version" of himself. That mindset and the success he enjoyed during training camp last season has reassured Miller that he can still succeed in Year 11.
"I'm still running around here beating everybody's ass, so I feel like, 30-what?" Miller said. "Until I see otherwise, I'm going to keep doing it. I'm going to keep going."
Miller wasn't sure he would get that chance last year. He said Monday that following the injury, he wondered if that practice was his last as a Denver Bronco. By season's end, Miller wasn't yet ready to be "the type of Von I know I could've been," and he remained on IR through the end of the season.
As new General Manager George Paton weighed whether to pick up Miller's option, though, the pass-rusher said he believed things would work out for him to remain in Denver.
"I always had an internal faith that I would be here," Miller said. "I said a long time ago that I want to be a Bronco for life. I always felt like that even though the business and all of this stuff. I always felt like this was home and this is where I was going to end up. I'm an optimistic guy. You guys all know this, I'm an optimistic guy. I always feel like we can win the Super Bowl and be the best defense, this and that. I always feel like that, and that same optimism, I brought into this offseason. I always felt like I was going to be a Denver Bronco. I always felt I was going to come back."
And now, he's healthy enough to play the game that means more to him than ever.
"I just want to play football," Miller said. "I didn't get to do it last year. It means a lot more. Football's also meant so much to me, and it just has a different feel to it, whether that's a prove-it [year] or whatever you guys call it. Every time I walk out here I feel like I've got to prove something. It's not to you guys or the GMs or anybody like that. It's to myself. I love this game, I want to be a great. [The way people] feel about Kobe [Bryant] and [Michael] Jordan and the type of guys they were in their sport, I want to do the same thing for my guys and my teammates. The time is now. I've been working hard, I've been grinding. I've been doing everything I possibly can do off the field to be a great player on the field. [When] all of this stuff starts coming together, it'll be great."
'THE REAL DEAL'
When Miller took the field for OTAs on Monday, he couldn't help but notice first-round pick Pat Surtain II. The 6-foot-2, 208-pound player has impressed Miller in the early stages of Phase II and OTAs.
"This Patrick Surtain II, this PS2 guy, he's the real deal," Miller said. "There's a couple times where I look over my shoulder just to see who's out there at receiver, left and right checking out the formation, and I see this guy standing out there and I'm like, 'Bro, this guy is taller than me. Is he supposed to be inside? He's supposed to be rushing. This guy's supposed to be rushing.' He's the real deal. He's a specimen. He has great feet. … This Patrick Surtain II up close and personal, he's the real deal. I'm excited to see what he can be able to do vs. all these receivers that we have in our division, all these receivers throughout the league that we've got to play [and] have to match up with."
Fangio has also been happy with the first-round pick's performance early in the offseason program.
"I've been pleased with his work so far, although it's very early," Fangio said. "We thought highly of him to pick him where we picked him. He's got all the measurables you're looking for. The thing I like most about him up to this point [is] I like his demeanor. I think he's got an NFL demeanor, especially the type of demeanor you need to play corner in this league. I think he has some versatility which we're going to need to take advantage of. Everything has been good so far with Patrick, but we were expecting that."
Miller said that with a secondary that includes Surtain, Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson, Kyle Fuller, Bryce Callahan and Ronald Darby, the Broncos could have a "resurrection of the No-Fly Zone."
READY FOR CAMP
While Miller was on the field Monday, 2018 first-round pick Bradley Chubb was not. He underwent a recent procedure on his ankle that kept him out of the final two games of 2020, and Fangio said he expects the Pro Bowler to be ready earlier than initially expected.
"It was something that we thought would heal in time," Fangio said of the ankle injury. "Through his workouts, he would have days where he would feel it, and some days where he wouldn't. They went in there and checked it out and had a very good procedure. I think he had some bone spurs that were aggravating the injury and aggravating him some days. We were able to get that taken care of and it was good news. They thought the operation would have kept him out until the middle of August, but it was so much of a success and they didn't find that much damage in there. I think he'll be ready by the start of camp now."
Fangio said linebacker Justin Strnad is "healthy and ready to go." Strnad missed the 2020 season with a wrist injury.