The Denver Broncos caught a glimpse Thursday of what things would be like if All-Pro linebacker Von Miller has to sit out all of September.
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Miller skipped the final day of training camp to deal with his looming suspension for violating the NFL’s drug-abuse policy, although ESPN reported that his appeals hearing was postponed. League spokesman Greg Aiello told The Associated Press that the league was not at liberty to comment on the matter.
Nonetheless, with their 24-year-old star absent, third-year pro Nate Irving lined up at Miller’s strongside spot in the base defense at practice and free agent newcomer Shaun Phillips playing Miller’s rush end role in the nickel.
They did fine, but make no mistake, Miller was missed.
”When you lose a guy of that caliber, you’re going to notice a difference,” Champ Bailey said. ”He’s just that effective on our defense. I think you would notice a lot more difference in a game-type situation. Von, hopefully we have him back sooner than later.”
This is, after all, the man Broncos Executive Vice President John Elway calls the most talented football player he’s ever seen.
Miller has collected 30 sacks in his two pro seasons, including a franchise-record 18 1/2 last season, when he was voted runner-up for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award after being named the league’s top defensive rookie in 2011.
A four-game suspension for Miller would leave a gaping hole in Denver’s defense when the Broncos kick off the 2013 season at home Sept. 5 against Super Bowl champion Baltimore.
Coach John Fox said Miller would play Saturday night in the Broncos’ preseason game at Seattle. Even if Miller is suspended, he won’t have to leave the team until Aug. 30.
Despite the specter of a suspension hanging over him, Miller had a terrific training camp, practicing with the starters in hopes he could win his appeal. The Broncos have worked on various contingency plans but Miller’s absence Thursday presented them with their most extensive work yet on a backup plan just in case.
”We’re prepared for any possible scenario,” Peyton Manning said. ”That’s how you have to be. If you get all wrapped up into one outcome and it doesn’t end up turning out that way, you don’t really have a Plan B. Today was a good practice on the possibility that he may not be here. If that’s the case, that’s not going to be an excuse for our team and we have to find a way to do our job. But we certainly hope that he is here.”
Miller’s troubles were exacerbated Sunday when he was arrested at a firearms shop near the Broncos’ practice facility on a warrant for failing to appear in court on Dec. 31 for an October traffic stop in which he was charged with careless driving and not having a license or proof of insurance.
”Obviously, you’re very disappointed any time a guy didn’t take care of his business, but we support him,” Fox said. ”He’s going to be fine. He’s dealt with it. We’ll recover from it.”
Bailey said the mounting troubles might make it seem like Miller is a bad apple but he insisted he’s a good guy who just needs to mature.
”He’s young. Things happen and it’s a process,” Bailey told the AP. ”We all go through something like this in our life, whether good, bad, something to help you kind of take ownership and responsibility for what’s going on around you and just make you more aware. And I think this is only going to make him a better person in the end.
”He’s not bad now, but he’ll be even better in the future,” Bailey said. ”We’ll get through this together and we’ll bounce back from it.”