ENGLEWOOD , Colo. – "Vonnie Football" is hoping to channel his best Derrick Rose.
Denver Broncos star linebacker Von Miller, a man who is part contortionist as he rushes the passer, is hoping to turn the second round of the AFC playoffs into a marketing platform. When the Broncos face the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday, Miller is going to put his personalized shoe by adidas on display for the first time.
It's a gleaming white, lightweight, Five-Star high-top that the sneaker company designed just for Miller, a former Texas high school track star who has made a habit of making NFL offensive linemen look foolish. Miller, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft out of Texas A&M who was recently nicknamed Vonnie Football by coach John Fox as a takeoff on Aggie Heisman Trophy winner Johnny "Football" Manziel, has 30 sacks in 31 games despite being undersized (he is listed at 6-foot-3, 237 pounds).
"It's all about the shoes, man," Miller said, laughing at his overstatement that ignores his stunning combination of flexibility, speed and strength. "I'm not DRose or anything like that, but I got to get this shoe out there, having people see it. Get all the high school kids wearing it."
Miller, continuing to make his marketing pitch, even took suggestions from reporters on possible names:
"How about the Miller Lites?" Miller said, jokingly.
Hmmm, he might want to avoid the litigation that will go with that name.
In all seriousness, Miller's popularity could truly take off if he can help lead the Broncos to the Super Bowl. His explosive athletic ability has already made him one of the top young pass rushers in the league, alongside the Houston Texans' J.J. Watt and Aldon Smith of the San Francisco 49ers. The big difference is that Watt and Smith outweigh Miller by approximately 60 and 20 pounds, respectively.
While all three are fast, Watt and Smith can overpower blockers with traditional strength. Miller gets the job done with a completely unique skill set.
"I've never been around a player like him," said Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who spent 11 years in the NFL as a player and the past 16 as a coach. "He's incredibly quick, but he also has more strength that you'd expect.
Such a display was last season against the New York Jets when Miller made a quick move to the outside against 318-pound offensive tackle Wayne Hunter. As Hunter quickly backpedaled, Miller put his right hand to Hunter's chest and tossed Hunter aside on the way to sacking quarterback Mark Sanchez. In all, the play took around two seconds.
This season, Miller finished third in the league with 18 ½ sacks. Against Oakland, he abused right tackle Khalif Barnes for one sack and forced Barnes into three holding calls. What drove Barnes to distraction was Miller's ability to get so low to the ground as he ran, even at full speed.
This is where the track star in Miller comes out. In high school, he ran in the 100-meter dash and in the hurdles. He did that despite usually being 30 to 40 pounds heavier than most of the competition.
"I'd stand there and be like a giant next to most of those guys," said Miller, who made the state finals in both his junior and senior year. He was able to advance, particularly in the hurdles, because of his limber body.
"That's why I like so many of those two-sport guys," Fox said. "You get a guy who was a hurdler like that, and you know he's that limber. Or maybe a guy was a high school wrestler and he really understands how to use his leverage. … With Von, it's like he's running almost parallel to the ground sometimes, like his torso is almost six inches off the ground or something crazy like that and he's going full speed."
Fox then laughed and said, "Oh yeah, that's all coaching."
Just like Miller laughs about the shoes as he walks around in a pair of classic adidas Pro Model low-tops. Truth is, Miller is a quirky bundle of energy and amusement.
"I'm just trying to be a little DRose-ish," Miller said, invoking his favorite basketball player once again. Rose is basketball's latest and biggest current shoe icon. Miller would be happy with just a small slice of that.
"Yeah, maybe get all the guys at A&M decked out in these," Miller said. "That would be cool."
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