Since being drafted in 2011, Von Miller has been one of the most dominant defensive forces in the NFL. Now, the Denver Broncos will have to play without the linebacker for almost 40 percent of the 2013 season.
Miller has been suspended six games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. According to the 24-year-old, the suspension didn’t result from a positive test. However, he will no longer be allowed to suit up for the Broncos, following their final preseason game on Aug.30 against the Indianapolis Colts.
The absence of Miller will leave a big hole in Denver’s defense. As a rookie, he burst onto the season with 11.5 sacks. In 2012, he was even better, picking up 18.5 sacks and forcing six fumbles. With the departure of Elvis Dumervil, the club is going to rely on Miller even more in the upcoming season. For the first six games, though, they must find a replacement for the two-time Pro Bowler.
Denver won’t be able to completely replace the production of Miller. He was recently voted by his peers as the ninth-best player in the NFL, falling short to only J.J. Watt and Aldon Smith on the defensive side of the ball. However, the Broncos have a few candidates who will be forced to step up in the first few weeks.
Shaun Phillips spent the first nine years of his career competing against the Broncos with the San Diego Chargers. He’s been a consistent force at linebacker, recording his third-best sack total ever in 2012 with 9.5 on the season. After signing with Denver as a free agent in the offseason, Phillips is the most likely candidate to take over for Miller.
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As the Broncos waited for a decision on Miller’s future, they added depth to their linebacker corps by signing Paris Lenon on Tuesday. The veteran may be more suited to play on the inside, as opposed to the outside linebacker Miller, but he’s shown incredible durability over the years. Since entering the league in 2002, Lenon has missed just one game. He recorded 74 total tackles in 2012 and started all 48 games for the Arizona Cardinals in the last three years.
Denver was forced to sign veterans after they didn’t add any help to the middle of their defense in the draft. The organization selected two defensive linemen and one cornerback, but no linebackers in April. Doing so would have been helpful, since the club is also missing Stewart Bradley, who is set to miss a lot of time following wrist surgery.
Peyton Manning and company have the easiest schedule in 2013, but their toughest tests may come in the time that Miller is out. The club opens up the year with games versus the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and at the New York Giants. In Weeks Four and Five, the Broncos will face a few more NFC East teams in the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys.