(Eds: Adds details, quotes. With AP Photos.)By PAT GRAHAMAP Sports Writer
A hybrid linebacker with a multitude of pass-rush moves and wearing No. 58 will be tormenting the quarterback again inside Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.
And if his style looks a little bit like that of the late Derrick Thomas, well, it’s because Denver Broncos rookie Von Miller patterned his game after the Hall of Famer.
Article continues below ...
Be on the lookout Matt Cassel, Miller has made it his mission to show respect for his boyhood idol by sacking the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback over and over.
Not that the affable Miller expects Chiefs fans to cheer for him should he drive Cassel to the turf, even if the spin moves were inspired by Thomas, who died in 2000 from injuries he sustained in a car crash.
Growing up, Miller was mesmerized by the artistry of Thomas coming around the edge. He wears No. 58 – a jersey that’s been retired by the Chiefs – as a sign of his profound respect for Thomas.
He’s also piling up sacks just like his idol once did. Miller already has 6 1/2 this season, tying him with San Francisco’s Aldon Smith for the NFL lead among rookies.
”It’s definitely going to be special, going in there and wearing No. 58 in a stadium I definitely want to play well in and in a way that he would be glad for me wearing his number,” Miller said. ”He had fanatical effort and relentless pursuit to the ball. I try to have that same effort.”
Miller has been everything the Broncos (3-5) envisioned when the team selected him out of the Texas A&M with the second overall pick last April.
Sure, he’s had growing pains this season, leading to Miller trotting off the field when the Broncos utilize certain packages. But in passing situations, Miller’s usually the one in the middle of things, terrorizing the quarterback. Earlier in the season, Miller had a streak of at least one sack in five straight games.
And that was with pass-rush partner Elvis Dumervil hobbled by a sore shoulder and a high right ankle sprain. But with Dumervil healthy, they were finally able to unleash a potent 1-2 punch that Miller has dubbed ”Batman and Robin.” The dynamic duo shared a sack of Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer last weekend and combined to hit him five times.
”It was good to get Bruce Wayne back,” Miller cracked. ”Sacks, they just don’t come one at a time; they come in bunches. Hopefully this week Elvis can get three or four.”
Miller wouldn’t mind that kind of sack production, either.
After all, his idol, Thomas, once had an NFL-record seven sacks in a game at Arrowhead.
The Broncos have a locker room leader in the making in Miller, who’s remained humble and hungry even as he makes an immediate splash in the NFL.
”He’s a pro off the field as well as on the field,” coach John Fox said. ”He’s proven to be worthy. It’s hard to come into the National Football League as a rookie and have success and be able to handle success. I mean, in life you deal with adversity and prosperity and he’s handled the success he’s had very well and sometimes that can be a struggle for some players.”
Miller the football player still remains a work in progress. There are areas of his game that need polishing. Chief among them, dropping back into coverage.
”He’s getting better every day,” defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said. ”It’s things that he hasn’t been asked to do a lot.”
No, he was asked to do primarily one thing at Texas A&M – chase down quarterbacks. He had 27 1/2 sacks in 26 starts in his final two seasons with the Aggies and was anointed the nation’s best linebacker his senior year.
His welcome-to-the-NFL moment came against Cincinnati in Week 2. Rushing into the backfield on a stunt, Miller was poked in the right eye by a Bengals player.
Miller figured it was an accident and no hard feelings, even though his eye was swollen.
”But he was like, `Yeah, yeah, I got him! I got him!” Miller recalled. ”I was like, `Dang, it’s like that here. They really try to take you out.”’
That’s why he’s gone to a shield to keep fingers out of his face from all the players offenses are sending his way to slow him down.
”If you go against good tackles, you’re going to get chipped, you’re going to get double-teamed,” Miller said. ”There’s really not too much you can do.”
Except make adjustments.
Instead of going around the outside against the Raiders, Miller came up the middle and gave Oakland fits all afternoon.
Expect him to line up over center even more over the season’s second half.
”Well, it worked for us last week,” Allen said. ”It’s a matchup league, and they’re trying to put their best wide receivers in positions to get mismatches. We’re trying to put our best rushers in positions to get mismatches. Generally, your tackles are a little bit better athletes than your guards.
”I think moving him inside now and then is a good thing. You can’t do it all the time, because then they’ll start changing the protection to take care of him.”
AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton contributed.