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Top of the Class

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. –Selected in the top 11 picks of the 2011 NFL Draft, Von Miller, J.J. Watt and Aldon Smith have become friends off the field.

That relationship has benefitted everyone – except for opposing quarterbacks, that is.

Last season, J.J. Watt, Aldon Smith and Von Miller finished ranked first, second and third, respectively, in sacks among all NFL players.

This offseason, Miller traveled to Afghanistan on a USO tour with a group of NFL players that included Watt.

"We were good friends before all of that stuff but when you see the way the guy works—it's a motivator for me," Miller said. "The guy works out every day. I want to take that aspect of what makes him the type of player that he is and add it to my game."

Miller and Smith would text one another after big-sack games during the season as they raced for the league sack crown that Watt would end up winning.

While the three players have emerged as the top young pass-rushers in the league, all three have very different styles of play.

Smith is more of a pure pass rusher and leads the trio with 33.5 sacks in the past two years – only Vikings defensive end Jared Allen has more with 34 since 2011.

Watt, who won the Associated Press' Defensive Player of the Year Award last season, led the NFL with 20.5 sacks in 2012 and set a record for defensive linemen with 16 deflected passes.

Miller, who received the only vote not to go to Watt for the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year Award, has emerged as an all-around linebacker after finishing with 18.5 sacks last season to go with an interception that he returned for a touchdown.

Instead of copying parts of one another's game, Miller said that each player just has to focus on their own skillset.

"Physically, J.J. Watt is just massive," Miller said when asked if he could deflect more passes like Watt has. "He plays inside where he's constantly in the quarterback's face. With his pass deflections, maybe I have to pick that up with interceptions or forced fumble or something like that. I don't think anybody in the National Football League could deflect pass (like him) or play the way he plays. I just have to pick it up in other areas of my game."

Even if he doesn't think he can emulate Watt's pass-tipping abilities, there are still ways that Miller can learn from Watt.

Spending time together on the USO tour, Miller gained even more of an appreciation for the former Wisconsin Badger's work ethic.

"With him, everyone knows the natural athletic freak he is but he works at it every single day," Miller said. "I don't think him winning Defensive Player of the Year is a surprise because he worked at it this time last year. I'm trying to work at it right now. I just want to be that guy for my teammates."

Despite being halfway around the world from the comforts of the Broncos or Texans weight rooms, Watt and Miller didn't let their trip to visit the troops wipe out the opportunity to get better in the weight room.

"We were out in Afghanistan and he woke me up in the morning and he wanted to go work out," Miller said. "I just want to take that aspect of what makes him the type of person and the type of player he is and just add a little bit to my game and hopefully I can have a little bit better season."