ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The final practice of 2013's training camp provided a glimpse of something the Broncos hope to avoid, but accept as a realistic possibility: life without Von Miller.
He was excused from Thursday's practice, leaving Nate Irving and Shaun Phillips to share the burden of replacing him. Irving worked in the linebacking component of Miller's dual role, while Phillips worked as a defensive end in a role Miller usually has in the Broncos' pass-rush packages.
"Today was a good practice on the possibility that he may not be here," said quarterback Peyton Manning. "If that is the case, that is not going to be an excuse for our team and we have to find a way to do our jobs. But, we certainly hope that he is here."
Miller plans to appeal a suspension that would keep him out for the first four games of the season. He is expected to play Saturday in Seattle, and saw action early in the Aug. 8 preseason opener in San Francisco.
When the Broncos relieved most of their defensive starters early in the 10-6 win over the 49ers, they offered a first glimpse of their alignment without Miller, with Irving at strong-side linebacker and Phillips at defensive end. The two also saw a few snaps together and collaborated for the game's only touchdown, a Phillips fumble return set up when Irving stripped D.J. Harper of the football.
"I guess the only difference is Von's pass-rush abilities versus anybody's. He's always superior to pretty much anybody in the league," said cornerback Champ Bailey. "But there is the run stopping and Nate's pretty good at that. Whoever we plug in there, they'll be ready to go."
During practice, Phillips has shown glimpses of the explosion from the edge that he displayed in his nine seasons with the San Diego Chargers.
"He's a proven player in this league. He's hungry," Bailey said. "This guy's as good a pro as I've been around. He's definitely dialed in and ready to go. So I'm not worried about it."
But all the shuffling and situational substitution between Phillips and Irving can't adequately replicate Miller, who ranked ninth on the NFL Network's Top 100 list in a vote taken of players late last season.
"Well, when you lose a guy of that caliber, you're going to notice a difference," Bailey said. "He's just that effective on our defense."