All-Pro linebacker Von Miller donned a scout team skullcap over his helmet Wednesday and spent much of practice helping the Denver Broncos prepare to play more than a third of the season without him.
Miller was part spectator, part tutor when he wasn't squaring off against Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady as a member of Denver's scout team in his first practice since the NFL handed him a six-game suspension for violating the league's drug-abuse policy.
Nate Irving took his place at strongside linebacker in the base defense alongside Danny Trevathan and Wesley Woodyard, and Shaun Phillips replaced him at rush end in the nickel packages as the Broncos began working on Plan B following the NFL's verdict.
"I don't know that one guy can take Von's place," coach John Fox said. "I just know collectively as a football team we have to all pick it up."
It was a cloud that hung over the team all of camp. Now, at least, the Broncos know they'll be without their disruptive defender for the first six games of the regular season and that they'll have to generate pressure and make stops in other ways.
"The only difference is the guys that back him up are licking their chops getting a chance to step up and make some plays," Woodyard said. "We're going to definitely miss his presence on the football field for those six games but I have no doubt in my mind he's going to come back and continue to be one of the best players."
Phillips noted that instead of sulking on the sideline, Miller spent Wednesday's workout schooling rookie defensive linemen John Youboty and Sylvester Williams on the finer points of a slippery pass rush.
"He keeps himself involved," Phillips said. "He's a locker-room guy. He's the guy that makes everyone laugh and is out there coaching the young guys. He's giving me pointers and giving other guys pointers. He always does that. That's Von's attitude. He's always helping out everyone else."
Miller can continue practicing with the Broncos and can also play in their last two exhibition games before his Aug. 31-Oct. 14 banishment, during which time he'll be allowed around team headquarters and can keep his team-issued iPad playbook but won't be able to practice or play in any games.
For weeks, the Broncos and Miller expressed confidence things would turn out differently.
Miller insisted when word first broke about his pending suspension last month that he had done nothing wrong and Fox insisted on practicing Miller with the starters, suggesting that to do otherwise would be tantamount to not playing Peyton Manning for fear that his star quarterback might get hurt.
Although the Broncos have tinkered with contingency plans for weeks, Miller continued getting the bulk of the work at practice with the starters until Wednesday.
Despite encouragement from the team to speak with the media, Miller politely declined interview requests as he walked off the field after practice.
"He's upset. No one feels more upset about this than him," Phillips said. "He felt like he let his team down, he felt like he let his family down, his name down. I don't know how well you guys know Von, but he's an amazing guy. He's not a bad guy. He made bad decisions, but he's not a bad guy, or a bad person."
With Miller facing suspension and Stewart Bradley needing surgery on his left wrist, the Broncos shuffled their linebacker corps this week, signing 12th-year pro Paris Lenon. They also moved Woodyard from the weak side to the middle and inserted Trevathan, the starter in the nickel defense alongside Woodyard, into Woodyard's weakside spot in the base.
"Whatever combinations we end up using, we expect them to play at a high level for us and help us win," defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said.
Phillips, for one, embraces, the new defensive configurations.
"Whether I'm playing defensive end or linebacker, it really doesn't matter," he said. "Football is football. At the end of the day, you tackle the guy with the ball."
Few are better at that than Miller, who has 30 sacks in his first two pro seasons, but now that he's in Stage Three of the NFL's drug program, he faces up to 10 drug tests a month for the rest of his career with another slip-up carrying at least a year's banishment.
Phillips said Miller will learn from his mistakes and suggested the Broncos will ultimately gain from these trying times, as well.
"Pressure can either break you or pressure can make diamonds," Phillips said. "Everyone's hitting the panic button (on the outside). We haven't even played the game yet. We'll be quite all right. Football is about 11 players at a time doing their job, not one player doing his job."
Notes: DE Malik Jackson filled in for Robert Ayers (foot) opposite Phillips. ... C Ryan Lilja (knee) missed practice again.
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