ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Make no mistake: Von Miller has still been a part of the Broncos and their locker room, even as he served his six-game suspension.
Since it was under the auspices of the league's substance-abuse policy, the Miller was still around the team, still attending meetings, still talking with teammates in the locker room, still lifting weights with them. It was only for practices and games where the sides had to part.
"He always texts me and wishes me luck before games, but he has (been) in a tough situation to where he's really isolated," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "He just wants to be a part of the team."
That happens this week, and not a moment too soon for a defense that has spent the last six weeks at the extremes. Against the run, it is the league's stingiest in yardage per game, giving up 69.8 yards a week, 5.8 fewer than the second-best Jets. But against the pass, the Broncos emerged from Sunday still at the foot of the league.
Being 6-0 makes being 32nd against the pass easier to swallow. But the Broncos hope -- and need -- Miller and his multi-faceted abilities to change the fortunes of the pass defense and the unit at large.
"He helps out the secondary a lot with that rush," said Harris, who noted that Miller was an honorary member of the defensive backfield for his work in making their collective task easier. "The offensive game plan is changed totally different when 58 comes in."
Miller should allow the pass rush should improve from its current mid-table pace (ninth in total sacks, 22nd in sack ratio, with one every 15.76 pass plays), because he was one of the few truly transformative defensive players in the league. But if the secondary slouches even a bit with Miller back, the defense will not make the progress it needs in order to sustain championship aspirations.
"It makes it easier, but at the same time, we've still got to go out there and play disciplined," said safety Rahim Moore. "You never want to think, 'Oh, Von is back; it's going to be easier.' There's still going to be some trials and tribulations, but you've got to go out there and make plays."
When the third-year linebacker returns, Harris thinks that fans will see a different Miller -- at least physically.
"He's got a trainer that comes down here and trains with him," said Harris. "So, that alone shows that he's dedicated and he's trying to make himself better right now. I mean, I'm pretty sure with his trainer, he's gotten a lot better with his technique. That's really the thing I've seen him do."
Added Moore: "He says he's in the best shape of his life."
How that translates to the field and how quickly Miller can get up to speed remains to be seen, but in recent days, confidence among his teammates was soaring.
"He's ready," said defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, smiling. "That's all I'm going to say: he's ready."