ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Von Miller has been no slouch in the years since Super Bowl 50.
In those four seasons, Miller has posted three double-digit sacks campaigns, four Pro Bowl nods and a first-team All-Pro appearance. As recently as 2018, Miller recorded 14.5 sacks, which is the second-highest season total of his career.
But after four playoff-less seasons for the Broncos, Head Coach Vic Fangio sees a different Miller than the one he's seen on film and in person in recent years.
"He and I have kept in contact through the offseason," Fangio said Tuesday. "He has sent me some videos and pictures. I do think — again I haven't seen it with my own eyes — from everything I hear and know, I do think he's had a hell of an offseason. We all know he had COVID there for a little bit. I don't think he was affected much by it. It really didn't slow him down much. I'm anxious to see him. He's put on some weight. I know he's worked extremely hard.
"I do sense that he's got a hunger to his game and to his attitude that I don't think he's had the last few years in the league."
Miller posted just eight sacks in 2019 as he dealt with a nagging injury and teams focused their attention on him in Bradley Chubb's absence. The eight-sack total was Miller's lowest since 2013, when he played just nine games.
This offseason, though, Miller has seemingly transformed his frame to add upper-body strength. That change — coupled with Chubb's return to the field — could help Miller return to a double-digit sack total.
CHUBB 'DAMN CLOSE' TO 100 PERCENT
After months of rehab on a partially torn ACL, third-year player Bradley Chubb is healthy enough to begin practicing with the team and will avoid the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.
"He's done well in his rehab," Fangio said. "He's one of the few guys for us that we've had here the entire offseason. Every team had a handful of guys that they were able to rehab during the pandemic. He was one of them for us. Once we were allowed back in the building, I saw him a lot. He's doing very well. The key for him too is he's doing well mentally. He never let the grind and the ups and downs of rehab get to him. He fought through it. I don't think we can say he's 100 percent right now. We'll watch him. We anticipate him being out there and ... practicing and not being on PUP early on. We'll monitor him. He's not 100 percent, but he's pretty damn close and I think he's had a hell of a rehab."
BOLLES ENTERS CAMP IN 'BEST SPOT' OF HIS CAREER
While Elijah Wilkinson will begin training camp on the PUP list, Garett Bolles enters the year in the "best spot" he's been in during his young career, Fangio said.
"I do think Garett — I saw him the other day — has had a very good offseason," Fangio said. "I think he feels he's in his best spot both physically, mentally and emotionally than he's ever been in during his career. I think he feels good coming back with the same offensive line coach for the first time I think in his career. He's had me as the head coach now for two years. I think the arrow is up as far as it goes for Garett. That's easy to say here as we sit late July. We'll see how it unfolds. I think he's in a good spot as it relates to everything as much as he can be."
Fangio said neither Bolles nor Wilkinson has the current advantage as the team prepares for an open competition at left tackle.
FINDING THE BEST 53
Without the benefit of preseason games, Fangio and John Elway may need to turn to unconventional methods to evaluate the players on their roster. As the Broncos prepare to trim the roster to a 53-man active roster and 16-man practice squad, the team could introduce live-action drills that include tackling to the ground.
"Maybe in practices we'll have to have some live action in there on occasion," Fangio said. "I've never been many places where that's been done in practice. We just relied on the preseason games for that. We'll just go from there. We may practice a time or two at the stadium to get them adjusted to being in a big stadium, an NFL stadium, although it would be empty. … A lot of those guys, all of them, you can't evaluate them totally until it's live action. Who can tackle, who's willing to tackle and who can break tackles? it will be an adjustment for everybody."
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
The Broncos have implemented a slew of precautionary measures at UCHealth Training Center to mitigate the risk of COVID-19, but Fangio expects the team's on-field work will look similar to a normal season.
"When it comes to practice, I think practice will be fairly normal," Fangio said. "The whole theory of what we're trying to do, and I don't think anybody's trying to sell it any other way, is when we're on the practice field and on the game field, we're playing football. Period. Everything else when we're off the fields is where we're going the extra mile in social distancing, people being together, wearing the masks, etc. I think on the field for those of you that will be here watching us, I don't think you'll see a whole lot of difference other than we've made the point that when we have a team drill going on in practice — the 22 players that are out there partaking, they're out there playing football. The other players that are not in — you all are usually seeing them in a crowd next to the coach watching the action, talking about it. They're going to be spread out a little bit more than normal. Other than that, I think you'll see more spacing for people not in drills. I think the drills will look relatively the same to you."
The Broncos, though, realize that staying safe off the field is the only way to excel while on it.
WHO'S UP NEXT?
As the Broncos aim to keep their players safe, one reporter raised an interesting question on Tuesday: What happens if Fangio or one of the other coaches falls ill?
Fangio said the coaching staff has discussed those contingencies, but he declined to share specifics.
"We haven't gotten to that point where that would be decided," Fangio said. "Obviously, I have some thoughts along those lines. Until we need to share them, I'll just keep them to myself. We're going to try hard to avoid that. Everybody is going to try hard, but the virus may not avoid us. We'll have a plan for that, but I'm just going to keep that to myself right now."
The Broncos have a pair of coaches on their staff with head-coaching experience, as both Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur and Offensive Line Coach Mike Munchak have held the top job in the past.