ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As Brian Griese prepared to call the Broncos' Week 1 "Monday Night Football" matchup with the Titans, he assembled a series of story lines focused on Von Miller's renewed intensity.
"I think it's been a very different offseason for Von, and not just because of COVID," Griese said Wednesday during a conference call with ESPN's "Monday Night Football" crew. "Understanding how Kobe Bryant — the death of Kobe Bryant — affected him, how the watching 'The Last Dance' affected him and watching how Michael Jordan led his team affected Von. Obviously Von contracting COVID in April and having to go through that gave him a different perspective. I think we were seeing a different leader in Von Miller this offseason. Just watching practice, you could tell. Traditionally in the past, Von has been more passive. He was being more directive and I think he understood from watching the Michael Jordans and the Kobe Bryants and the Mamba Mentality what it meant to be a leader, and you didn't always have to be that jovial Vonster, if you will, who he's been in the past. He was taking a different leadership role."
Those story lines unfortunately changed Tuesday as Miller suffered an ankle injury during practice that will reportedly force him to miss the 2020 season. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Miller will be out least three months with a dislocated peroneal tendon, but he noted the injury has a "general recovery time" of five-to-six months.
"Von is an artist," Louis Riddick said. "He's an artist as a football player in terms of his ability to affect games on the football field. Let's just start there. The great Steve Young likes to talk about the difference between science and art and playing the game of football. The science is kind of like what the coaches tell you to do, what your assignments are, how you're supposed to carry them out, where you're supposed to be, just really what is in the playbook. The art comes in the things that coaches can't teach you, the things that are instinctive. The things that happen that we all just sit back and go, 'Wow, how did he do that?' It's what makes the great players great, it's what makes the Hall of Famers, Hall of Famers. That's what really I think people are going to miss and what I'm going to miss about Von Miller if he is out for the season and obviously him being out for this game [against Tennessee]."
Riddick and Griese both agreed that Miller's leadership would be missed during his injury, both in the Broncos' locker room and in the NFL community.
"You saw the outpouring of concern and love for him on social media, and that's because Von is one of those people that everyone understands and recognizes [is] an artist," Riddick said. "He's an artist as a pass-rusher. If you watch him play, it is beautiful to watch. The cool thing about Von is when we were out there last year for training camp before getting ready to do the Oakland-Denver game last year, he's one of those guys who wants to share his knowledge with other people and not just keep it all to himself, which I think it what makes him so respected and makes this loss so devastating, not just because of what it does to this football team but because we're being cheated out of watching a player who's going to go down as one of the best pass-rushers to ever play this game from a technical and from a production standpoint.
"Other players [will not] be able to see him out there and draw off of what he does and study what he does. He gets together with all of these other pass-rushers at the Pass Rush Summit every year, where he's giving away his tips. He's giving it away, he's helping other players to try to maximize their potential. That's what makes him unique, that's what the game loses with him not being around and being able to actually demonstrate why he is who he is. That's tough to swallow. That's something that is very, very unfortunate."
Miller's absence will certainly be felt on the Broncos' roster, as the eight-time Pro Bowler seemed poised for a bounce-back season after posting eight sacks in 2019.
"I would just say, how many outside linebackers are the face of their franchise?" said Steve Levy, who called Broncos preseason games with Griese in 2018 and 2019. "Really — and he has been for a long time. You think Broncos, [and] Von Miller's the first guy you think of. I had heard this was an entirely different camp for him. I don't think he had a particularly great season last year. … I think he heard a lot of that noise. I think [Head Coach] Vic Fangio challenged him and so it was my understanding that he came into camp in unbelievable shape. Certainly, the leader, the man that he is will be missed. … And on the field, Bradley Chubb's going to miss him too. I don't know how healthy Bradley will be for that opener, but when you had to account for Von Miller on the other side, that obviously created some advantage for Bradley Chubb. Now Chubb probably becomes that guy, and maybe Malik Reed can take advantage of that. The Broncos will be challenged for sure. And especially on opening night as we saw that Titans offense, what they did in the playoffs a season ago. Denver's up against it without Von Miller this season if in fact that's the medical case [that he'll miss the season]."
Riddick, though, believes Denver may respond well to the challenge of playing without their All-Pro pass-rusher. In order to do so, it will take players are nearly every position to raise their level of play. No one player, Riddick said, can replace Miller. Instead, the team's outside linebackers must be helped by improved play in the secondary, on offense and in other elements of the game.
"Obviously it hurts to lose a Hall of Fame pass rusher, but we've seen other teams overcome devastating injuries to people who play critical positions," Riddick said. "Now it's Denver's turn. Now it is Vic Fangio's turn. They'll have the bright lights of 'Monday Night Football' to put it on display, and I expect they'll respond favorably, because that's what professionals are paid to do."