NFL camp preview: Miller status creates doubt in Denver

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

DOVE VALLEY, Colo. - With their best defender possibly absent at the start of the season and definitely without their two administrators, the Denver Broncos open training camp Wednesday and will try to maintain or regain an optimistic attitude by the time they start hitting on the field Thursday.
Monday it was reported that Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller, the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2011, could be suspended for four games, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. He would still participate in training camp if he is suspended.
However, the reason was unclear, reportedly because the issue is under appeal.
Regardless, Miller at least temporarily adds his name to a list of suspended Denver employees that includes personnel executives Tom Heckert and Matt Russell stemming from their recent drunk-driving-related arrests.
Miller's absence exacerbates a problem on the edge of the Broncos' defense that already took a hit when defensive end Elvis Dumervil was lost in free agency due to mishandled paperwork on a fax.
The Broncos are trying to replace Dumervil with Robert Ayers, who is not as explosive in the pass rush but may be even stronger against the run at the point of attack. So, the absence of Miller, who had 11.5 sacks in 2011 and 18.5 last year, will certainly be noticed.
On offense, there is excitement surrounding rookie Montee Ball, who, along with second-year pro Ronnie Hillman, made it possible for Denver to cut veteran Willis McGahee.
As is always the case with young runners, the concern is how Ball and Hillman can block for quarterback Peyton Manning.
The Broncos also apparently want to step up the pace of the offense under new coordinator Adam Gase. Although he probably won't be confused with former Oregon-turned-Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly and his blur offense, Gase believes the Broncos can snap the ball five to 10 seconds faster than they did in 2012, especially with Manning in charge.
That, plus the rare air in Denver's Mile High altitude, may be a cause for concern for visiting defenses.
Beyond the young runners, the goal of keeping Manning upright and clean is a primary consideration for a somewhat unsettled offensive line. That group has had too many clients in surgical wards this offseason.
Left tackle Ryan Clady and right tackle Orlando Franklin underwent shoulder surgeries and guard Chris Kuper and center J.D. Walton both had leg surgeries after their fractures didn't heal as well as the Broncos hoped.
Louis Vasquez and Dan Koppen were signed to replace Kuper and Walton, and Koppen has already proved he can handle the work at center, having replaced Walton last year. But the fragility of the unit's collective health -- and the resulting impact on Manning -- is crucial.
At middle linebacker, the Broncos would like Nate Irving to claim the job outright. Irving, a third-round pick in 2011, was drafted with the intention of being the team's long-term answer at the position. But he struggled to pick up the system as a rookie and was shifted to backup strong-side linebacker in 2012.
If Irving falters, free-agent pickup Stewart Bradley is ready as an insurance policy. Bradley was a poor fit in the Arizona Cardinals' 3-4 scheme the last two years, but he looked good as a 4-3 middle linebacker with the Eagles before his descent in the desert.
And, in what may be a glimpse into the future, the Broncos were confident enough in 2012 second-round pick Brock Osweiler to make him the only backup quarterback in uniform for his entire rookie season, although they admit they would have trimmed the offensive playbook if he were forced into action.
This year they think he is ready to throw the entire Broncos' book at opponents, if necessary.
Coach John Fox and executive vice president John Elway have often declared Osweiler the Broncos' starter of the future and his play during organized team activities and minicamp substantiated that.
Still, nobody on the Broncos wants that future to arrive in 2013.

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