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Von Miller receives 'Chinese Dragon' nickname at Broncos camp

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It's an extremely bright Friday afternoon in Englewood, Colorado. Almost all of the 4,567 fans seated on a grassy berm -- and the majority of the media -- are fixated on Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. The two quarterbacks, who are battling for the starting job, are alternating reps against the best secondary in football in a seven-on-seven drill directly in front of the crowd. Every throw and every decision is being evaluated to the 10,000th degree as part of the most polarizing sports story in Denver.

But on the far end of the field, tucked in the shaded end zone near the windows of the Broncos facility, the offensive and defensive linemen are watching the best pass rusher in the NFL performing at perhaps the height of his game.

The pads have yet to be strapped on -- it's just the second day of camp -- but the one-on-one battles are physical and competitive. Unless it's Von Miller's turn. In which case they are quick and often embarrassing. Let me introduce to you the Chinese Dragon.

"When you watch what they do when it's the Chinese New Year and you see those dragons go down the street, they're always turning and twisting and moving and flipping," said first-round pick and potential starting left tackle Garett Bolles, who also created the nickname. "That's what he does. He's just so dominant."

The group watched Miller explode so quickly off the line that Ty Sambrailo, who is competing with Bolles for the starting left tackle spot, wasn't able to make contact with Miller. Not even the brush of a hand that would have counted if it were a game of tag. Miller not only did this once, he did it twice. In a row.

Later, the dragon switched to the other side. This time, he'd square off with Denver's starting right tackle, Menelik Watson. After practice, standing in the player's tunnel, Watson broke down each rep to me. Miller went outside on him on the first, and although Watson said he thought his hands were in a good place, his feet were soft, and Miller flew by. The second rep was a devastating spin move to the inside, and Watson didn't stand a chance.

"With Von, it looks effortless," Watson said in his thick British accent. "It almost seems like he isn't trying. Right now he's just chilling. Von's chilling."

While he appears to be coasting, he's dominating. After being beaten on the second rep, Watson put his huge hand in the air above his head and twirled his index finger. He wanted a chance to redeem himself.

"He was joking, and he was just laughing," Watson recalled of Miller's reaction to his request. "I told him I appreciate it, because does Von Miller really need the work? Being the guy who he is?"

The free-agent tackle from Oakland managed to get his feet right during the requested third rep, but Miller still unsurprisingly got into the backfield. Watson spent the first four years of his career with the Raiders and practiced daily against Khalil Mack, who beat out Miller by a single vote for Defensive Player of the Year last season.

"I love Khalil Mack, and Khalil Mack will be a Hall of Famer, no question," Watson said with a grin, because he knew what was to come next. "But Von Miller, when it comes to the pass game, it's cerebral. He's cerebral."

Both offensive tackles spent the majority of our conversations describing, in unbelievable detail, to the lengths only those that played the game would understand, the techniques and physical traits that make Von Miller unlike any pass rusher they've ever faced. But as Watson pointed out, it's the mental side of Miller's game that has separated him from everyone else.

"It's kind of weird, and the trick for me being here is, don't fall into the trap of trying to work against him, because he's different," Watson said. "Working against him is different, even when I played against him with the Raiders. I understood that it's not just going to be here, here, here and fight. It's going to be, you have to learn."

A relationship between Miller and Bolles began when Miller was the first person to call Bolles the night he was drafted. Their bond has quickly evolved in the last few months to the lengths that Bolles says he loves Miller dearly and considers him family. During camp, the two play a daily chess game on the field.

"He's going to hit you with a new move every day," Bolles told me, standing barefoot inside the Broncos facility. "Like today, he comes up with something new. So I had a chance to change my set, and I got him early on. He came up to me and said, 'I'm going to get you tomorrow, I bet you'. I was like, 'I know you are'. And then he's going to go back and watch film, and he's going to study what I did and come back with a new move."

Both Watson and Bolles separately described another specific trait of Miller's that they don't have to defend against with any other pass rusher. When a defensive player bull rushes an offensive lineman, there is usually a moment at the point of contact where every pass rusher spins his wheels for a second. They have to usually take another step or two without getting downfield to continue their rush. This allows offensive linemen to reset and reestablish their position in an attempt to hold their ground. That doesn't happen with Miller. The dragon's feet don't slow down on contact.

"With him, as soon as he gets contact, his feet get faster," Watson said. "There's not much you can really do."

Miller's not the strongest player in the league, but many believe he might have the strongest core, which creates a different type of power. Compound that with his ability to bend as he comes around the edge and somehow defy physics and miraculously not fall over or lose speed, and you have a one-of-a-kind talent. Or a mythical creature.

"He literally changed and revolutionized the defensive end spot for the last 6 years he's been in the league," Bolles said. "Because you know everyone says he's undersized, but he's strong. He's not your typical defensive end that's [6-foot-4, 250 pounds], he's a quick guy that's 230, 240, and his game will punish you. If you're not careful, he's going to make you slit your own throat."

When you see the former Super Bowl MVP on the practice field, he looks incredibly disproportionate, but in a good way. Large shoulders cut sharply to a thin waist. Colossal quads connect to thin knees that sit above massive calves. All a result of an unorthodox training routine that Miller felt worked him harder than any offseason before, and which was documented on social media. When I spoke to Watson, he was on his way to work out his quads and brought up Miller's, which have been the talk of training camp.

"I thought I had big quads," Watson said to me as he pulled up his pants to show them off. "I got some big quads. But that boy's quads are something different. That s--- is ridiculous, man. He's a freak. You know when guys get like implants? He's got implants."

Miller has taken his body to another level, and it's been impressive. But what Miller has done to soak up the knowledge of his craft from those who came before him, and not only instill it in his own game, but teach it to players around the league, might be the most impressive aspect of his growth as a player and a person. His pass-rush summit -- which was inspired by the Manning Passing Academy -- this offseason brought together pass rushers from across the league to help one another become better players. His leadership has developed as his game has. It's based on his ability to relate to players in his locker room better than anyone, combined with an approachability unmatched among his superstar companions across the league. Not only does he twist and move on the field unlike any other player, off the field, he's blazing a truly pliable path as well.

2017 might officially be the year of the Rooster, but it looks like it's shaping up to be the year of the Dragon.

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