Miller on a mis­sion, fu­eled by gru­el­ing off­sea­son work

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nicki Jhab­vala

Von Miller went to hell and back this sum­mer, and he re­cently re­turned to Colorado to tell his team­mates — and the thou­sands watch­ing Bron­cos train­ing camp — tales of his jour­ney.

Ty Sam­brailo got an ear­ful, as Miller blew past him re­peat­edly with­out con­tact in in­di­vid­ual drills. Fel­low of­fen­sive tackle Mene­lik Wat­son heard one story early in prac­tice Thurs­day — a lethal spin move — and was so dumb­founded, he begged to hear an­other un­til it fully reg­is­tered. Rookie of­fen­sive tackle Garett Bolles learned a bit, too, but the kid has been in the know since April, re­ally.

Through­out the last seven

months, Miller has shared snip­pets from his trip, of­ten with cam­era fil­ters, a steady beat of rap mu­sic and his friend and sup­port­ing ac­tor, Cyrus Gray, at his side in pro­fes­sion­ally pro­duced In­sta­gram videos. For a stint in the mid­dle of his odyssey, when he re­turned to Den­ver for or­ga­nized team ac­tiv­i­ties (OTAS), Miller re­cruited some of his team­mates to tag along so they, too, could ex­pe­ri­ence life in hell.

But hell hath no fury like a trainer dis­guised in a hoodie, black sun­glasses and enough de­cep­tive charm to call his clients “Sir.”

“That dude’s crazy,” said safety Will Parks.

That dude is bet­ter known as “Hell’s Trainer” and less known as Frank Ma­trisciano, a name few can match with a face be­cause of his de­sire to stay out of the spot­light. He has no Twit­ter ac­count. No In­sta­gram doc­u­ment­ing his fa­mous clien­tele (his face is blurred out in Miller’s videos). No web­site and no in­ter­est in ad­ver­tis­ing his ser­vices.

Last week, Miller did enough of that for him, arriving at camp with quadri­ceps the size of wa­ter­mel­ons, an ex­plo­sive­ness that has left on­look­ers chuck­ling in dis­be­lief and a bend that de­fies the laws of grav­ity.

“I want to push my body to a spot that it has never been be­fore,” Miller said in May. “You’re never guar­an­teed that work­ing hard off the field will trans­late to on-the-field suc­cess, but that is what I am hop­ing for this year. I’ve never worked as hard as I am work­ing this off­sea­son.”

At­ten­tion at Bron­cos camp was sup­posed to be cen­tered on the quar­ter­backs vy­ing for a start­ing job. But Miller has claimed the spot­light, and this is no con­tin­u­a­tion of his Su­per Bowl 50 me­dia tour.

Von Miller is on a mis­sion.

“Con­trolled chaos”

Miller’s pri­mary hell was sta­tioned in San Fran­cisco, with the blue sky and Pa­cific wa­ters as back­drops. Four days af­ter Den­ver’s 2016 sea­son ended with a play­off-less thud, Miller jet­ted to north­ern Cal­i­for­nia to meet with the man he had long heard about.

Miller’s agent, Joby Bran­ion, had tried to con­vince Miller to get with “Frank” for years. Go to Frank, he would say. You need to go to Frank.

“Guys don’t re­ally do this right away,” Mas­trisciano said. “They don’t re­ally just jump into this train­ing. For ev­ery 10 guys, only three stay.”

When Miller fell one vote short of be­ing the NFL de­fen­sive player of the year, fell 2½ sacks short of the league lead and his Bron­cos fell one vic­tory short of a post­sea­son berth, he lis­tened.

Miller rented a house in San Fran­cisco, and ev­ery day that he could for about eight weeks, he and Gray — and oth­ers such as Shane Ray, who ro­tated through — en­dured Mas­trisciano’s “chameleon train­ing,” a gru­el­ing regimen that em­pha­sizes adap­ta­tion to un­sta­ble en­vi­ron­ments.

“I got tired of this cookie-cut­ter stuff,” Mas­trisciano said of his work­outs. “You al­ways want to do some­thing dif­fer­ent to shock the mus­cles. In San Fran­cisco, the sand is un­sta­ble. That’s go­ing to make some­one stronger than it would if they were on a sta­ble en­vi­ron­ment, like a foot­ball field. With me, I don’t like to put guys on hard sur­faces. I don’t like to put them in a po­si­tion where they’re go­ing to put wear and tear on their bod­ies.

“The stuff is sort of crazy, but it’s con­trolled chaos. Every­thing I do is for a rea­son.”

Na­ture is Mas­trisciano’s play­ground, of­ten lit­er­ally.

Some days, Miller and Gray would sprint up the steep sandy hills at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, wearing weight vests or car­ry­ing 50-pound medicine balls — some­times both — un­til they reached a point of ex­haus­tion.

Some days they’d toss a medicine ball against a con­crete wall 50 times — then do it all again.

“I will not do things just to do them,” Mas­trisciano said. “I will not have some­one train and pre­tend they’re get­ting stronger, or pre­tend their tech­nique is good. If their tech­nique is bad, we’ll stay right there un­til that tech­nique is per­fect. And then I’d move on with them.”

Some days they’d climb wind­ing stairs up the cliffs, then work their way back down, drenched in sweat.

And some days, they’d crash a play­ground in an ex­er­cise of “Save the Kids,” in which they scale par­al­lel bars as Mas­trisciano tells them that weight vests hang­ing off their shoul­ders — up to 40 pounds for Miller — are chil­dren need­ing res­cue. The sand be­low their feet, he’d tell them, was a river. The slide to their right was a waterfall. The swings be­hind them were a mas­sive fire.

Miller had to save as many chil­dren as he could, inch­ing back and forth across the bars amid the pre­tend dis­as­ters. It was a mind game. They’re all mind games, with mus­cle and agility as byprod­ucts.

“It’s real­ity,” Mas­trisciano said. “I’m not a fan of what peo­ple would ac­tu­ally con­sider lift­ing. That’s not real­ity. There is no bar, no pul­ley, noth­ing to aid you. So what they’re do­ing is ac­tu­ally lift­ing real weight.”

Dur­ing OTAS, Miller flew Mas­trisciano to Colorado for chameleon train­ing twice a week be­tween team prac­tices. Af­ter­ward, they re­turned to Cal­i­for­nia for ad­di­tional weeks of work be­fore Miller re­ported to camp.

Miller’s al­tered physique — he weighs a lit­tle more than 250 pounds, with only 6.3 per­cent body fat — was hard to miss as he made his first pre­camp ap­pear­ance in de­signer jeans that wrapped his thighs like span­dex.

“His body def­i­nitely changed and he looks ways bet­ter from last year as far as him be­ing quick, be­ing more ef­fi­cient with his move­ments,” Parks said of the all-pro out­side line­backer. “We kind of see it on film. As the DBS, we’re in the back so we get to see ev­ery­one up front, and he’s one of the guys who stands out as far as be­ing fit, agile and mov­ing at the same pace, if not faster, ev­ery rep. There’s def­i­nitely a dif­fer­ence.”

It was never more no­tice­able than on Day 2 of camp, as Miller bounced from in­di­vid­ual drills against the of­fen­sive line, to team drills with a burst and en­ergy un­seen in past years.

“We all know who he is and what he’s ca­pa­ble of, so to have a guy like that to go against, you can’t ask for more,” Wat­son said. “He’s a per­fec­tion­ist. And he’s also an alpha. Al­phas don’t want to get beaten. When you go against a guy like that, and you’re an alpha, too, it only makes for good work.”

More snaps, more plays

In late June, at Stan­ford, Miller hosted his first sum­mit for pass rush­ers — a gath­er­ing of the NFL’S lead­ing edge rush­ers to share se­crets and hone their craft. Miller said the sum­mit was in­spired in part by Pey­ton Man­ning’s an­nual pass­ing camps at Duke with his brother, Eli, and their re­ceivers.

Re­ally, it was just a big­ger, more for­mal ver­sion of the meet-ups Miller has had with ri­val play­ers through­out his ca­reer, of­ten in the off­sea­son.

“At the end of the day, it’s go­ing to make our game bet­ter,” he said. “It’s big­ger than just my team­mates and my Den­ver Bron­cos here. It’s a thing that can help im­prove the league.”

But whether he was in the Bay Area or at Den­ver-area fields dur­ing this off­sea­son, the fo­cus was sin­gu­lar.

“If I can stay on the field, I can play eight snaps in­stead of five snaps,” said Miller, who has dealt with asthma since he was a kid. “It al­lows me more time to make plays and it al­lows me more op­por­tu­ni­ties and ex­po­sure to make plays. That’s been my whole goal this year. … I don’t want to be on the foot­ball field just go­ing through the mo­tions.”

Last sea­son Miller played 930 snaps (81.2 per­cent of the de­fense), up from his 834 dur­ing the Bron­cos’ Su­per Bowl 50 run in 2015. Top­ping 1,000 snaps, as Den­ver cor­ner­back Chris Har­ris does, may be am­bi­tious. But per­haps not out of reach for Miller.

“I’m go­ing to chal­lenge him on that be­cause I can’t come out. I’m like, ‘Hey, man, you need to stay in ev­ery play,’ ” Har­ris said. “I’m glad with the way he ap­proached the off­sea­son this year.”

Miller wants his and wants to help the Bron­cos get theirs. In­stead of need­ing to come out and giv­ing up an­other shot at the quar­ter­back — an­other pos­si­ble sack, an­other pos­si­ble pres­sure, an­other op­por­tu­nity to dis­rupt the op­pos­ing of­fense — he wants in on the ac­tion.

So far in camp, he has been the ac­tion, and he’s made it look easy.

Maybe be­cause he’s al­ready been to hell and back.

“He was very se­ri­ous and he earned it,” Mas­trisciano said. “You look at him now — be­lieve me when I tell you this — next year when you see him, you’re go­ing to go, ‘Damn, I thought last year was some­thing.’ ”

Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

Von Miller, at Bron­cos train­ing camp Satur­day, has a firm grip on what is re­quired to be an NFL star.

Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

Af­ter prac­tice Satur­day, Von Miller worked on his pen­man­ship while sign­ing au­to­graphs for fans.

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