With the retirement of DeMarcus Ware, outside linebacker Von Miller is expected to elevate his role as defensive leader.
Von Miller looked around a room of sack-happy pass rushers in a Broncos meeting room recently and came to a heady realization.
At 28 years old and entering his seventh season in Denver, Miller is suddenly the elder statesman of a defense once again expected to be an anchor for a team aiming to return to the playoffs. Only Demaryius Thomas, entering his eighth season, has been with the Broncos longer than Miller.
“I’m the DeMarcus Ware in the room now,” Miller said Wednesday on the eve of the Broncos opening training camp. “I’m not old, but I’m the old guy in there. Everybody’s joking and laughing and stuff, and I’m looking at them like, ‘What are you laughing about? I don’t get it.’ That used to be me on that side. The roles, the tide has changed, I guess. I have to be that guy for my team. I think I’ve taken steps to do that.”
The retirement of Ware leaves a large hole to fill on the Broncos defense, as much from a leadership perspective as the numbers the nine-time Pro Bowl pass rusher accumulated on the field.
Miller will no doubt be expected to elevate his role as a leader in the locker room with Ware gone. It’s some of what the Broncos expected from him when he was signed to a six-year, $114.5 million extension a little more than one year ago.
“Anytime you lose a guy like DeMarcus, it’s tough,” Broncos president of football operations and general manager John Elway said. “He was a tremendous help, tremendous leader. As we talk about with Von, the steps he’s taken maturity-wise, it’s a different type of leadership, which is great. He keeps things loose. I think that he’s relished that role in knowing that as a vet that is one of his responsibilities. He’s done a great job with it.”
But Miller, a player who has made a fortune squirming away from massive offensive tackles, is not keen on being placed in a box. His leadership style is no exception. Miller has drawn ideas from Peyton Manning. The linebacker’s pass rush summit in June, a de facto workshop involving some of the best defensive players in the NFL that Miller organized at Stanford, was loosely based on the well-known training sessions Manning would organize in the summers in Duke.
When Miller speaks with young players on his own team, he’s quick to share lessons he learned from Ware and others around the league, becoming himself a conduit of the craft. But while Miller’s leadership approach has become a melting pot of different flavors from around the league, through multiple generations, it’s also uniquely his own.
“Roles change every single year, but at the end of the day I have to be Von Miller,” he said. “Peyton and DeMarcus, those guys are just two incredible people on and off the football field. Their style of leadership is totally different than my style of leadership. I like getting in with the young guys. I like spending time with the rookies. I like spending a lot of time with people in general inside the locker room. I feel like I address situations and I help people over time. It’s not just like, ‘You need to do this.’ I feel like I help my teammates over time and help them become better people on and off the football field by using my example and my career and everything I’ve been through.”