Von Miller hosted his third annual Pass Rush Summit at UNLV on Saturday, and plenty of the NFL's best rushers were on hand to share their tricks of the trade. Aaron Donald, Calais Campbell, DeMarcus Ware, Yannick Ngakoue, Bradley Chubb, Frank Clark and quarterback Doug Flutie were just a few of those who made the trek to Las Vegas for the now annual event.
LAS VEGAS — The instructor pauses his thought and takes a swig of coffee.
He looks back at those in attendance and considers his next sentence.
At this summit, his words may matter most. He is, after all, the keynote speaker of sorts.
It’s certainly not a traditional setting, as he has ditched the traditional hotel conference rooms and dim lighting.
No suits, either.
In a gray T-shirt and black athletic shorts — oh, and spike-studded sunglasses — he instead addresses a group of his contemporaries on a turf-covered athletic field at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
The palm trees that line the Rebels’ practice field offer little relief from the midday sun that hovers overhead.
But it matters not.
Von Miller is here on this early June afternoon to teach. And he’s here to work.
If Las Vegas is an oasis in the midst of a desert, Miller’s third annual Pass Rush Summit may be the lone haven for defenders looking to make an impact in an increasingly offensively minded league.
And these 40 men — the ones searching for whatever edge they can find, whatever can help them get closer to another sack — have given up a free weekend to ensure they don’t miss out.
Aaron Donald is here. Calais Campbell, too. Yannick Ngakoue. Frank Clark.
Their resumes are impressive.
Hundreds of combined sacks. Dozens of Pro Bowl appearances. An impressive number of All-Pro selections.
Donald has twice been named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year — and the other players on the field have often been the ones chasing him for the honor.
If all goes well on this Saturday in early June, one of the players could learn enough to put himself in position to be the next defensive player of the year.
“I’m so appreciative and blessed and beyond grateful to be a part of this with you guys and to link and learn,” Miller tells the group, which has spent two hours on the field teaching each other various pass-rushing moves. “That was the foundation of all this. It’s not me teaching you or y’all teaching me — we all learn from each other. To have something like this in the league is an honor and a privilege. It’s my way of giving back to the game that has given so much to me. I appreciate all of you guys.”
There’s a nugget of information to glean from each player and each conversation.
Former Broncos outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware demonstrates a power rush move, and Campbell and Donald jump in to offer their own expertise. Melvin Ingram chimes in as the conversation turns to the cross chop, a move that Ngakoue has nearly perfected.
Raiders tackle Trent Brown shares how he blocks a rusher when he has help from a running back — and how he’d prefer to never have any help.
Former quarterback Doug Flutie tells Miller and Ngakoue the secret to learning the offense’s snap count and why he always felt he could make at least one edge rusher miss. Against today’s players, Flutie says, that might not be the case. Miller tells the former Bills quarterback he’s working on avoiding getting too far upfield. “I’ve been trying to address that,” Miller says.
Ware works one-on-one with Ngakoue on a move that shortens the edge and gives the rusher a way to push the offensive tackle’s hands away. “It clicked,” Ngakoue says. Ware offers the same one-on-one instruction to Donald.
Miller leads the group in a conversation about stance and get-off and how he approaches crunch time. “The get-off is going to do it for me 70 percent of the time when the game is on the line. … I’m a gambler. … Where we get our money is when there’s blood in the water,” the Super Bowl 50 MVP says.
The lessons continue in the film room, where Miller, Donald, Ngakoue and Campbell show their own tape and walk the rest of the players through their thought process.
“I think the biggest thing is being able to share ideas,” Campbell says. “I watch their tape, you know? I study these guys already. So I talk to them and get an understanding of what they’re seeing [so] when I’m actually looking at tape, it makes sense. We get a chance to get an idea of [where] they’re coming from. I always like studying great players to see what I can learn from them. …When I’m watching tape and I see it, in my mind I’m like, ‘What is he doing there? Why is he doing that?’ And then you come out here today and it’s like, ‘Ohhh. That makes sense.’”
When’s Brown’s film gets put up and he rewinds a play of himself blocking Ingram, the room roars with laughter. The reaction is similar when Brown, a former Patriot, and Donald trade barbs about their Super Bowl LIII matchup.
The value of the sessions — both on the field and in the classroom — is clear. Donald, perhaps scarily, says he learned moves that can make him better. Campbell says the field work is rare and crucial to their improvement. Ngakoue calls the different perspectives valuable.
Miller, of course, says picking the brains of these top-tier players is “incredibly dope.”
And Ware, even with his 138.5 career sacks, is jealous of the opportunity he never got.
“I wish I had something like this when I was playing,” Ware says. “I would’ve gotten to see the Larry Allens and the Dwight Freeneys and the Simeon Rices and Jason Taylors, [the] Michael Strahans.
“If I would’ve gotten to see some of those guys at the time, I would’ve picked their brains like these guys are picking my brain right now.”
There’s a reason, of course, for the collaboration. Though it may seem counterintuitive for Miller to help division rivals like Ingram and Clark, there’s an added value for each of these players to “link and learn,” as Miller puts it.
It could also even the playing field between offenses and defenses.
“The NFL still wants points to be scored,” Campbell says. “We’re going to have some fun, though.”
The third annual Pass Rush Summit means more to Miller than an added sack or a weekend spent with peers and friends.
It’s about how he’s going to be remembered when he’s looking back on a game that he used to dominate but can no longer.
There will be several ways to characterize Miller. As a Broncos Ring of Famer? That’s a near certainty. As a Pro Football Hall of Famer? Seems more than likely.
But there’s more to legacy than a gold jacket and Super Bowl MVP trophy. There’s also a sense of how you’ll be remembered by your peers.
Campbell, who has been in the league three years longer than Miller and is likely nearing the end of his career, has played long enough to have proper perspective on the event.
“I think a lot of this is that when you play the game, you want to leave your legacy,” Campbell says. “What’s your mark? A lot of guys have talked about getting together and working, and usually it’s like one or two guys. For him, using his pedigree and what he is and getting all the best guys to come together, it’s pretty awesome.”
Miller admits that he wants the event to be part of his legacy, and he says he was blessed to have his peers show up for the unprecedented event.
It’s the lessons and the shared ideas and the sense of community, though, that will keep them coming back.
“I might be the one throwing it in like five or six years,” Ngakoue says. “When Von’s all done, we can just keep this thing going.”
Miller, through the Pass Rush Summit, has created that lasting bond.
“He truly brings that mentality of what a fraternity is and a brotherhood [is],” Ware says. “You can see how many guys are here right now.
Watch out, quarterbacks. Miller and Co. are just getting started.