DENVER –** Chris Harris Jr. and Von Miller have been a pair throughout their careers. Both played in the Big 12 Conference during college. They joined the Broncos as rookies in 2011, with Miller selected as the second overall pick and Harris as an undrafted free agent. They rose through the ranks together, both working their way into the Broncos' starting lineup.
Come early 2014, they were together still, each rehabilitating from an anterior cruciate ligament tear.
The two are now in their fourth game back after sustaining their injuries last season and have been making progress in each game leading up to Sunday's win over the Cardinals. They were clear difference-makers during Sunday's win.
View photos from during the Broncos' home game against the Cardinals.
They both knew it would take time before they were truly themselves again. While Harris finished the game with a career-high four passes defensed, he says he still doesn't feel 100 percent.
"Oh man, I've still got a long ways to recover and I'm still working to be myself, but I have a long ways and I'm still early," Harris said. "It's just now eight months for me and I'm still dealing with it. I still have to continue to work on it, continuing to get it stronger and hopefully by the end of the season, I should be fully healthy."
Two of Harris' passes defended could have been picks, one possibly even a pick-six. But he couldn't quite get his hands on the ball. So he settled for making some clutch pass breakups, including one in the corner of the end zone on a pass from Drew Stanton intended for Michael Floyd.
Harris had two solo tackles in the game. While he racked up 11 solo tackles this season leading into the game, his presence was clearly felt on the field as he was covering a variety of Cardinals receivers during the matchup.
He believes that the Cardinals' wide receiving corps are the best the team has faced so far this season and their success in containing them will help the defense "take it to another level as the season goes on."
While Harris' progress was apparent on Sunday, Miller looked like the player Broncos fans had hoped he would be leading up into this season. He had three combined tackles on Sunday and 1.5 sacks to go with four quarterback hits. In typical 2012 Von Miller fashion, he blew past Cardinals right tackle Bobbie Massie and with just his left hand pulled down Drew Stanton for his first sack of the day in the second quarter.
Their process to this point has been one bonded by their rehabilitation together going back to the beginning of the year. In fact, according to Harris, they were constantly "battling" during rehab, trying to be faster and stronger than their counterpart.
Harris had surgery about a month after Miller. He had some catching up to do.
"We did just about everything together," Miller said. "I was ahead of him in my rehab for three weeks and after that Chris made a huge gap and we were doing the exact same thing for the last six weeks of the treatment. We were together and it was great. Chris, he's a fierce competitor and working out with him, he pushed me. I like to think I pushed him too. We had some great results from our recovery, not only just between me and Chris, but [Head Athletic Trainer] Steve Antonopulos and the whole training staff."
Like Harris, Miller knows that the process of returning from an ACL tear isn't easy. His first game back, he had just one tackle. Gradually, his playing time and his impact have increased. He had his first sack of the season against the Chiefs and is now riding a three-game sack streak, his longest streak since the 2012 season.
"It feels good to do my job and take care of business and do what I'm supposed to do," Miller said after the game. "This is why I'm here with the Broncos. It feels good to make plays for my teammates.
"I got a unique position on the field. If I can get my job done, then everybody's job on the defense is a whole lot easier. That's the mindset that I go in at the end of the week thinking."
Miller doesn't focus on how far he's come or dwell on the past. He's moving forward, making plays and taking steps in "bite-sized pieces."
Terrance Knighton said after the game, "He's back, really. I just feel bad for quarterbacks now."
Before the Broncos' Week 3 game against Seattle, Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio noted that Miller "gets better with time."
"I think [CB] Chris [Harris Jr.] was a week better," Del Rio said during that press conference. "I think Von was a week better. And I think they'll continue to get better, and we're monitoring that. We've got depth and we're going to utilize the depth to make sure we're being smart with those guys as we're bringing them along, so we'll continue to do that."
Del Rio has been patient with these two defensive weapons. Their potential is slowly being revealed as this season marches on. If Harris isn't 100 percent, it's scary to think about how good the two playmakers will be later in the season.