DOVE VALLEY, Colo. -- Last year, the Denver Broncos' defense was more powerful than their high-octane offense, statistically. It ranked No. 2 in the NFL in yardage allowed, tied for the league lead in sacks and featured Pro Bowlers on all three lines of defense.
However, it is possible that none of those Pro Bowlers will be available when the regular season opens.
The Broncos have known they'd be without Elvis Dumervil since the fax faux pas that waylaid a successful contract renegotiation and forced his release for salary considerations; he ended up signing with the Ravens. They had an offseason to account for Dumervil's absence, and ended up with a plan to use Robert Ayers in their base package and Shaun Phillips in pass-rushing situations.
But Champ Bailey and Von Miller? They didn't plan for that, but it's now a realistic possibility after Bailey sprained his foot against Seattle on Aug. 17 and an ESPN report emerged two days later that Miller's suspension for violation of the league's substance-abuse policy could be for six games.
"We are aware of reports and sometimes it's erroneous because I think we'd probably find out before other people," said Broncos head coach John Fox.
"We haven't been aware of really any of it, to be honest with you. We don't know the suspension. There is no suspension and at which time there is we'll report that, but anything else right now is really just talking heads."
The league has not confirmed that Miller has been suspended, and won't until any punishment is finalized. But a defense that appeared fearsome on paper -- even without Dumervil -- now looks like it will struggle to be ordinary in the early portion of the regular season. A neck injury to defensive end/tackle Derek Wolfe, who was expected to shuttle between the outside and inside spots depending on the formation and a wrist injury to linebacker Stewart Bradley only exacerbate matters for the Broncos' defense, which is losing players faster than it can replace them.
The Broncos fortified their depth at linebacker with the signing of 12-year veteran ironman Paris Lenon on Tuesday. While Lenon has lost a step or two, he has also been a 16-game starter in six of his past seven seasons.
There is also hope for Wolfe and Bailey to play in Week 1. That appears to be fading for Miller, which leaves the Broncos left hoping that a suspension won't extend into the meat of the schedule in October and November: a six-game stretch that includes the Colts, Redskins and Patriots. The other three games in that span are division duels: one at San Diego and two against the Chiefs, who appear drastically improved from their 2-14 finish a year ago.
The Broncos' early schedule is benign; although they face the last two Super Bowl winners in the first two weeks, the combined 2012 record for their first six opponents is 37-59. If there is a stretch on the schedule where they could stay above water without Miller and potentially other key defenders, that appears to be it.
"Next man up. We're going to perform just like he's there," said linebacker Wesley Woodyard.
Miller met with NFLPA officials on Aug. 15 regarding his potential suspension and missed that day's practice. That afforded the chance for the Broncos to work on their fill-in plan, which appears to involve Nate Irving at strong-side linebacker on base-formation downs and Phillips in the defensive end role that Miller handled when the Broncos went into their nickel and dime packages.
"You know, I guess the only difference is Von's pass rush ability vs. anybody's. He's always superior to pretty much anybody in the league," said Bailey. "But there is the run stopping and Nate's pretty good at that. Whoever we plug in there, they'll be ready to go."
But they won't be Von Miller.
"It's a loss that you don't want to have," safety Rahim Moore said. "I pray to God that it doesn't happen, you know, because he is a tremendous athlete, a tremendous player, a tremendous friend, so I pray to God that he doesn't get suspended."
It's a prayer that appears unlikely to be answered.
--As if a potential suspension and a recent arrest for missing a traffic-court date wasn't enough, Von Miller's name was listed as a witness in a local murder trial, according to a report from KUSA-TV in Denver.
The defendant, Dexter Lewis, is one of three people arrested for stabbing five people at Fero's Bar and Grill in southeast Denver on Oct. 17, 2012 and subsequently burning the establishment with the victims inside. The other two defendants have already entered guilty pleas.
The court filing lists Miller's name along with "dozens" of others, according to the KUSA report. Miller is listed under "any witnesses," and is part of a list that includes firefighters and police officers.
Miller is listed on the document as a "possible acquaintance" of Lewis. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Lewis.
--Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.