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Von Miller looks healthy as he heads into an important 2014 season

Broncos get injured players back on field
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(AP)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. Von Miller didn’t play in the Super Bowl last season for the Denver Broncos.

That’s worth mentioning right away, because that fact has been mostly forgotten. Miller probably wouldn’t have changed the 43-8 final score that much. It’s also safe to say that missing Miller, an All-Pro outside linebacker who was out with a torn ACL, made a difference for the Broncos.

Miller won’t go down that road with you. He refuses to speculate on what difference he could have made for a Broncos defense that was overmatched against the Seahawks. His teammates never made that excuse, he says, so neither will he.

But for all of the excitement of Denver’s additions this offseason, the biggest one might be simply having Miller again. Not many teams added an All-Pro in the offseason (and Denver really is adding two, with offensive tackle Ryan Clady returning from injury, too). With free-agent addition DeMarcus Ware on one side and Miller back on the other, the Broncos have a vision for what their defense can be. They hope it's a defense that isn't just riding the coattails of one of the best offenses in league history, like last season.

"Those two guys if they’re healthy, there are two beasts coming off the edge that are tough to deal with," general manager John Elway said. 

The defense probably won't be special unless Miller is again, and there's some question about that.

Are the Broncos getting the 2012 version of Miller, who didn’t win defensive player of the year only because Houston’s J.J. Watt had one of the great defensive seasons of all time, or the 2013 Miller whose torn ACL was just the final blow to a terrible year on and off the field?

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One of the reasons nobody brought up Miller much after the Super Bowl is his stock took a tremendous dip in the past year. He was in the news for legal issues through the 2013 offseason, mostly minor issues that he didn't take care of on time. Then came the big one, a six-game suspension for violating the league's drug policy. Reports said the NFL gave him six games because he tried to work with a specimen collector to give a fraudulent sample.

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(AP)

(AP)

He was rusty when he came back, perhaps because he added a lot of weight that seemed to slow him down. He had just five sacks in nine games, well below the standard of his 18.5-sack season in 2012. He blew out his knee on Dec. 22 and his season was done.

Physically, Miller looks fantastic. He wouldn't specify his weight but he is clearly lighter. He said he worked out every day, and stayed true to his diet. He feels like the weight loss is going to help him play like he did in 2012, when he was a terror off the edge.

"A Ferrari isn't built to carry luggage to and from the airport," Miller said. "You want it to be light, streamlined. That's what I'm trying to get to. I figured out that when I was 280 pounds, 275 pounds, [offensive linemen] are still going to hold you, regardless."

He said his knee feels great. In sideline-to-sideline conditioning runs with the linebackers after practice, Miller finished first each time. He was limited on the first day of camp, not participating in any team drills, but the only sign of any lingering issue was the knee brace on his right leg. Although he hasn't worked against offensive linemen yet, he feels like his explosion hasn't suffered because of the knee injury.

"My first couple steps, I feel the same as before," Miller said.

Off the field, there was no news on Miller this offseason. That's a good step. The Broncos will soon have to make a long-term commitment to Miller, and he needs to show the team he's worth it on and off the field. The Broncos picked up Miller's fifth-year option, and he can be a free agent after the 2015 season.

"It just made me a better person," Miller said about last year. "Adversity reveals character. I think, all the stuff that happen, I handled it well. I’m in a blessed situation to be where I’m at today.

"From a year ago, I’m definitely different. More mature. I’m one of the oldest guys in the linebacker room now. I was talking to Wesley [Woodyard, now with the Titans] the other day and said, ‘I’m one of the oldest guys in there now!’ We started laughing. That’s just part of it, man. You’ve got to grow up."

It's one thing for Miller to say he's more mature, but he'll need to stay out of trouble to prove it. As bad as 2013 was for him and his career arc, he has the talent to reestablish himself as one of the top five defensive players in the NFL with a good season. If he does that, maybe the Broncos can get over the hump and bring home their first Super Bowl championship in 16 years.

The Broncos know what they have with Peyton Manning and their great offense. What they need is for their defensive superstar to get his career back on track.

"Every year, there’s something to prove," Miller said. "It’s a, ‘What have you done for me lately’ type business I’m in, and I love it. That’s what I’m grinding to do. Do something new, do something fresh. I don’t want to talk about first year, second year, third year … I want to do something more every year."

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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