Von Miller could learn a lesson from Phil Mickelson. If No. 58 wants to be a Bronco for life, he’s got to prove it. Now.
Von Miller exploded off the grass the way a Ferrari does off asphalt. He juked. He cut. He backpedaled and bounced like a fawn through the thicket.
The Broncos’ defensive icon loped around the Dove Valley practice fields Monday with the joie de vivre of a third-grader flinging open his school’s exit doors to greet the first sunny recess of the month.
“I’m still running around here, beating everybody’s (expletive),” the Vonster joked during a Zoom call with reporters after the first day of the Broncos’ organized team activities. “I’m like … 30-what?”
He’ll be 33 next March. But who’s counting?
Lordy, did the old man look good. Or as good as you can look in helmets and sweats, shadow-boxing against the mountain air.
“I’m not going to put a bar on what he can and can’t do,” coach Vic Fangio said of Miller, whose OTA debut showed no ill-effects from the ankle injury that wiped out his 2020 season.
“It’s still a guy that’s capable of playing like he was four, five, six years ago. But it’s going to be up to him to put in the time and the effort in these next few months to get his body right.
“As we saw (this past Sunday) in golf, (Phil) Mickelson proved that you can still play great (as an older athlete). But the one thing he did mention is, he’s had to work harder, to be more committed to his game, to achieve that. And I think that applies to football players, too. Even somebody as talented as Von.”
If there’s an early theme for the Broncos in 2021, it’s this: Prove it.
For Fangio, that he’s not a lifetime defensive wizard who’s out of his depth. For quarterback Drew Lock, that there’s a ceiling and a consistency — especially the latter — that Teddy Bridgewater can’t touch. For offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, that we shouldn’t be screaming for Aaron Rodgers in the last week of September like we were the last week of April.
For Miller, at age 30-what, that the ankle’s clean. That he’s still got it. That he’s worth a seat on new general manager George Paton’s party bus.
No. 58 is slated to take up $23.2 million of the Broncos’ cap space, or more than 11% of it, in 2021. That’s a lot of scratch for any franchise, let alone one that could use some financial flexibility to upgrade the quarterback room at some point in the next three to 12 months.
Paton didn’t build the Super Bowl 50 champs. There’s respect for Miller, but no pesky nostalgia. No tugging at the heart strings. 58 is 32. Dude’s in a walk year. Prove it.
“Without giving any click bait or hot topics for you guys (in the media), I just want to play football,” Miller said Monday when I asked about him having something to prove.
“I didn’t get to do it last year. It means a lot more. Football has always meant so much to me, and it just has a different feel to it — whether it’s a prove-it (feeling) or whatever you guys call it. Every time I walk out there, I feel like I’ve got to prove something. It’s not to you guys. It’s not to the GM, or anybody like that. It’s to myself.
“I love this game. I want to be great. I’m fueled by Kobe (Bryant) and (Michael) Jordan, and the type of guys that they were in their sport, I want to do the same thing for my guys and my teammates.
Mickelson might’ve stiff-armed Father Time, but for NFL pass-rushers, 30-what becomes 40-what in a blink.
Of the league’s all-time top nine sack men, a list that includes former Bronco DeMarcus Ware (138.5), only three averaged 10 or more sacks in their career after the age of 31: Kevin Greene (12.5), Reggie White (11.1) and Chris Doleman (10.5).
Among those prime nine, the average sacks from age 32-onward dipped to 9.2 per season. For the players still active after 2009, that number dropped to just 7.8 after they turned 31.
The Vonster’s contract is up in 2022. Which means if No. 58 really wants to be a Bronco for life, he’s going to have to play like it.
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