ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It isn't much of a secret: If Denver's defense wants to produce something like its 2012 performance this year, a healthy and active Von Miller will be needed.
Sure, adding DeMarcus Ware is great, but the Broncos should know as well as anybody the impact a pair of great pass rushers can make. Even with Miller's down season marred by injury and suspension, Elvis Dumervil's absence proved quite significant in 2013.
Luckily for the Broncos, Miller is oozing with confidence about making a full return to the form that gave opposing offensive coordinators nightmares in 2012.
"I'm in a great spot," he said after practice on Monday. "Recovering from an ACL is nothing -- I'm out here playing the game I love and I'm feeling great."
Considering he suffered his injury about seven months ago, Miller's progress is impressive, as he was able to go through individual drills and even a bit of 7-on-7 during the first week of training camp. At this point, it seems more than realistic that he could play in the preseason, using the opportunity to get back in a rhythm before Week 1 of the regular season arrives.
And yes, it's nice to have some insurance in case Miller needs some time to feel like his old self. The Broncos' deep rotation of interior pass rushers has been effective during camp, while two 2013 rookies who spent the year on injured reserve have flashed their skills off the edge.
"I'm excited about the progress that those guys have made," Miller said of linebacker Lerentee McCray
and defensive end Quanterus Smith. "They played in the first sub [package] today and looked great. They had a couple of sacks today and made a lot of plays today."
"It's relieving knowing that you have guys like that that know the playbook and are ready to go play."
All the same, Miller doesn't plan on making a belated impact on the season. He says he's "excited about the playbook" and knows it very well in his third season with coordinator Jack Del Rio, with his time missed on the practice field being channeled into time spent studying.
"I feel like I've been doing pretty well, especially with all my assignments," he said. "I spent a lot of time in the classroom because I couldn't really go out there and practice during OTAs."
Miller also joined the defense for post-practice sprints on Monday and was near the front of the pack, showing his conditioning isn't lacking. Yesterday, he used the team's day off to continue rehabbing. He's even working on his mentality with regard to his knee brace, no matter how restrictive it may feel.
"I try not to let my brace be an excuse or a reason why not to do something," Miller said. "It's the brace, it's what I've got to wear. I feel like I can play football without shoulder pads, but I'm not going to let wearing shoulder pads have me out there like, 'Man, I can't play football today.'"
"So having the brace on is just part of it. It's what I've got to do."
It remains to be seen when we'll see No. 58 back in team drills at practice or on the field in the preseason. But his full-steam-ahead approach is encouraging, and the lack of setbacks even more so.
With Miller looking primed for a strong return, Kevin Vickerson at "95 percent" and Chris Harris Jr. not too far behind, the defense certainly looks ready to come out of the starting blocks at full strength. How their All-Pro linebacker performs after that should go a long way towards getting them to the finish line.