USA TODAY Sports Weekly

MILLER POISED TO SEIZE THE SPOT­LIGHT

Bron­cos linebacker’s per­son­al­ity is ev­i­dent on and off the field

- Lind­say H. Jones @bylind­say­hjones USA TO­DAY Sports

As he put on a black puffy coat af­ter the Den­ver Bron­cos’ fi­nal prac­tice in Colorado be­fore Su­per Bowl 50, Von Miller said the words that strike fear into foot­ball re­porters across the coun­try.

“Maybe I’ll say, ‘I’m just here so I won’t get fined,’ ” said Miller, chan­nel­ing tight-lipped Seat­tle Sea­hawks run­ning back Mar­shawn Lynch dur­ing the lead-up to Su­per Bowl XLIX.

Miller tried to keep a straight face but soon was crack­ing up — that boom­ing, grav­elly laugh that might be the most com­mon sound on the de­fen­sive side of the Bron­cos locker room.

An ef­fer­ves­cent out­side linebacker, Miller will be the Su­per Bowl’s an­tithe­sis of Lynch, whose curt me­dia ses­sions pro­vided a sideshow the last two years.

The Carolina Pan­thers might have their share of big per­son­al­i­ties, from quar­ter­back Cam New­ton to cor­ner­back Josh Nor­man, but Miller is poised to be the break­out star of the week.

He has been shin­ing on the field for five sea­sons as a two-time all-pro with 60 ca­reer sacks and is rapidly be­com­ing one of the Bron­cos’ most beloved play­ers be­cause of his fe­ro­cious pass rush and in­fec­tious per­son­al­ity.

But un­like some of the other top play­ers from Miller’s 2011 draft class — namely No. 1 pick New­ton and Hous­ton Tex­ans de­fen­sive end J.J. Watt — he has yet to par­lay that suc­cess into main­stream off-the-field star­dom. And Miller is one of only two non-quar­ter­backs from the top 11 picks in that class who has yet to re­ceive a con­tract ex­ten­sion.

A mem­o­rable week lead­ing up to the Su­per Bowl — and a big game Sun­day against the Pan­thers — could change all that.

“I need to get me some chicken com­mer­cials. ‘Happy Chick­ens,’ ” Miller said with a laugh as he de­scribed his dream com­mer­cial chicken farm, one com­plete with live we­b­cams, so ev­ery­one could see that his poul­try were raised hu­manely, and a sound sys­tem. “Pump in a lit­tle Sade,” he said. Surely slow jams weren’t on the cur­ricu­lum of Miller’s poul­try sci­ence cour­ses at Texas A&M. But if his ap­proach to rais­ing poul­try is any­where near his for­mula for bag­ging quar­ter­backs, it’s hard to ar­gue with his method­ol­ogy.

Miller is the best player on the NFL’s best de­fense be­cause of his speed, flex­i­bil­ity and in­creas­ingly com­plex arse­nal of moves. Paired with vet­eran pass rusher DeMar­cus Ware in co­or­di­na­tor Wade Phillips’ ag­gres­sive de­fense, Miller dipped, spun and bull-rushed his way to 11 of the Bron­cos’ league-high 52 sacks.

His per­for­mance in the AFC Cham­pi­onship Game against the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots showed why he could soon earn one of the rich­est de­fen­sive con­tracts in the NFL. He sacked Tom Brady 21⁄ times, racked up seven tack­les and dropped back to cover tight end Rob Gronkowski be­fore in­ter­cept­ing a pass by Brady.

“They try to put me in a pass­rush cat­e­gory, but I try to have A-plus on ev­ery­thing I do — whether it’s pass cov­er­age, offthe-field stuff, work­ing with rook­ies — not just pass rush. And I think that’s what makes me dif­fer­ent,” Miller told USA TO­DAY Sports. “On third downs, I might be rush­ing, but I might be in cov­er­age, too. It’s a le­git­i­mate 50-50 chance I’ll be do­ing ei­ther one.”

The Miller the world will see this week is far dif­fer­ent from the ver­sion the Bron­cos saw two years ago, when a six-game dru­gre­lated sus­pen­sion and torn an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment threat­ened to de­rail his promis­ing ca­reer.

“I wouldn’t even call it low. It was just rough. If it had been a low point, I would have just been like, (screw) it, I’m done,” Miller said.

But he served out his sus­pen­sion, lean­ing on his par­ents — who tem­po­rar­ily moved in with him — and vet­eran team­mates such as for­mer Bron­cos Champ Bai­ley and Ter­rance Knighton. Miller was de­ter­mined to re­claim or ex­ceed the form that helped him notch 30 sacks in his first two sea­sons. It didn’t hap­pen im­me­di­ately, in part be­cause his ex­per­i­ment of adding more than 15 pounds of mus­cle, mostly to his up­per body, failed.

He tore his an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment in Week 15 of the 2013 sea­son, which he fin­ished with five sacks in nine games be­fore watch­ing his team lose to the Sea­hawks in Su­per Bowl XLVIII.

The off-the-field con­cerns and in­jury ques­tions feel like they hap­pened ages ago. Miller, while still a goof­ball, has ma­tured. He’s out of the NFL’s drug pro­gram thanks to two years of clean tests. And while he leans on Ware for guid­ance, he has be­come a locker room leader be­cause of his prac­tice habits. Miller missed one prac­tice all sea­son when he had a bad re­ac­tion to movie the­ater moz­zarella sticks in Jan­uary.

“He had a tremen­dous amount of sup­port — not just from us, but from his mom and dad. His agent’s done a tremen­dous job get­ting him in the right sit­u­a­tion and around the right peo­ple,” Bron­cos gen­eral man­ager John El­way said. “But the bot­tom line is, you can have all the sup­port and ev­ery­thing you could want, (but) un­less you make your mind up that’s what you want to do, it’ll never hap­pen.

“Re­ally, all the credit goes to Von, be­cause he made his mind up what he wanted to be. ... It’s been a tremen­dous mat­u­ra­tion process for him, and we’re thrilled that he’s come through.”

 ?? OR­LANDO RAMIREZ, USA TO­DAY SPORTS ?? Linebacker Von Miller has racked up 60 sacks and 267 tack­les in five sea­sons with the Bron­cos.
OR­LANDO RAMIREZ, USA TO­DAY SPORTS Linebacker Von Miller has racked up 60 sacks and 267 tack­les in five sea­sons with the Bron­cos.

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