Broncos LB Von Miller on returning to his old form: 'It never left'

Though a Hall of Fame-caliber resume lies within the rear view for Von Miller, what lies ahead is rife with uncertainty and doubt -- though not from the longtime Denver Broncos wreaker of havoc.

On the other side of 30 and coming back from a lost season due to an ankle injury, Miller's offseason was initially marked by questions as to whether he'd be back with the Broncos. Now, the quandaries center on whether the Miller of old will take the field in 2021 with an older Miller.

The 32-year-old eight-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl 50 Most Valuable Player was perhaps unsurprisingly emphatic that he's still got it and then some upon the opening of the Broncos' organized team activities Monday.

"It never left," Miller said Monday, via team transcript, when asked if he could return to his previous level of play. "I felt like last season was going to be the season, but I feel like this season is going to be a great season, too. Just refocus with that same fire and that same intensity and just grind it out. I'm still running around here beating everybody's ass, so I feel like, 30-what? Until I see otherwise, I'm going to keep doing it and I'm going to keep going."

An All-Pro who keyed the Broncos' 2015 run to the Super Bowl, Miller was at one time -- and for season after season -- viewed as one of the game's finest, regardless of position. While Denver has fallen upon troubled times and failed to reach the playoffs since that Super Bowl triumph, Miller maintained his stellar play. That changed recently, though. Despite receiving a Pro Bowl bid in 2019, Miller had just eight sacks in 15 games, his lowest output other than an injury-shortened 2013.

Then came the gut punch that was Miller's season-ending ankle injury before the 2020 campaign even commenced.

But Miller is hell bent on returning to his old dominant self and his head coach believes he has the skills and determination to do so.

"It's been great. Von is showing no ill effects in his injury from last year, which is what we expected," Broncos head coach Vic Fangio said Monday, via team transcript. "It wasn't one that lingered and needs a lot of attention. It just needed the time to heal. It's done that and it's great to see him. I love having him around and I enjoy being around Von. It's good that he's here and I've been pleased with where he's at."

As for reclaiming that elusive old form?

"I think he can, but it's May 24," Fangio said. "He's got two months to get in the great condition that he got in last year. I don't think he's in that type of condition at this moment, but he definitely can get back there. There's no doubt in my mind."

There was some scuttlebutt earlier in the offseason as to whether Miller would return to Denver this season, but the Broncos picked up his 2021 option and he'll finish out his current contract with the Broncos.

While doubt appeared to be in abundance regarding Miller's return, it apparently wasn't anything he wondered about.

"I'm not surprised. I'm happy to be here. I'm not surprised," Miller said. "I'm excited to be with the guys. To be honest, it just feels good to be in the locker room and just joke with the guys and just be in the mix again -- have grass underneath my cleats and have my helmet on. It feels pretty good.

"I always had an internal faith that I would be here. I said a long time ago that I want to be a Bronco for life. I always felt like that even though the business and all this stuff. I always felt like this was home and this is where I was going to end up. I'm an optimistic guy. You guys all know this -- I'm an optimistic guy. I always feel like we can win the Super Bowl and be the best defense. I always feel like that, and that same optimism -- I brought into this offseason. I always felt like I was going to be a Denver Bronco. I always felt I was going to come back."

Will Miller be back beyond 2021? Well, that's a quandary for another day.

As for how his ankle is cooperating, he believes he could play right now, but couched that optimism a bit with a statement that leaned toward safety first.

"To be honest, the way I'm feeling right now, I could play now," Miller said. "Feeling how I'm feeling right now, I feel great. I've still got a little bit more to go, but that little bit, I've got to get that on the football field. Everything that I can possibly do in physical training, rehab, and working with [head athletic trainer] Vince [Garcia], I've done that to the max. This last little bit, I have to get on the football field."

The comeback trail still has some obstacles and arduous work ahead, but so far so good it would seem.

Fangio is confident that his star defender can return to his star-making ways, but underlined that it's all in Miller's hands -- or perhaps more accurately his legs.

Question marks concerning his ankle and age will remain until Miller answers him with his play.

"I'm not going to put a bar on what he can and can't do, because I think he's capable of big things," Fangio answered when asked about his expectations for Miller's 2022 campaign. "I'll never want to put a ceiling on a guy, especially a guy with his talent and his ability. I think this is his [11th] season coming up, but I still see a guy that's capable of playing like he was four, five, six years ago. It's going to be up to him to put in the time and effort in the next few months to get his body right. As we saw yesterday in golf, [professional golfer Phil] Mickelson proved you can play great, but the one thing he did mention was he's had to work harder and be more committed to his game to achieve that. I think that applies to football players, too -- even somebody as talented as Von. You need to do more to maintain that level of play once you start getting into your 30s like he is and playing the position he is. There's no doubt in mind that he can do it. He's just got to do it himself."

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