ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – 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.
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 his appeals hearing was postponed. A league spokesman said the league wasn’t at liberty to comment.
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 played 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 the Broncos’ executive vice president, John Elway, calls the most talented player he’s ever seen.
Miller has 30 sacks in his two pro seasons, including a franchise-record 18½ last season, when he was voted runner-up for the Defensive Player of the Year award after being named the 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 season at home Sept. 5 against Baltimore.
Coach John Fox said Miller would play Saturday night in the Broncos’ exhibition at Seattle. Even if Miller is suspended, he won’t leave until Aug. 30.
Despite the specter of a suspension, 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.
“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.”