Some wondered whether the bravado, the public confidence meant they knew something everyone else didn't, that they had a trump card no one else could see. Miller said he knew he had “done nothing wrong," and the Broncos said they would proceed through practices as though there was no suspension until they heard otherwise.
But with Monday morning's revelation from ESPN NFL Insiders Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter that Miller faces a six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, the Broncos will now have to grapple with the idea of opening the season without their ultratalented linebacker. In fact, the Broncos’ thoughts on the likelihood and severity of the suspension may be previewed by how they use Miller in practice this week.
On the field it means Nate Irving, Stewart Bradley and Shaun Phillips will have to find a way to be all the Broncos hope they can be. And the Broncos might have to finally adjust how they conduct practice on the defensive side of the ball given Miller has taken virtually all of his usual snaps with the starting defense to this point in the preseason, including starting both preseason games -- in San Francisco and Seattle -- thus far.
Unlike last year, when the Broncos held D.J. Williams out of any work with the starting defense because Williams was facing nine games' worth of suspension, coach John Fox has kept Miller in with the starters throughout training camp and the team’s first two preseason games.
As Fox put it when camp opened, “As of right now, he’s not suspended." And with 30 sacks over the past two seasons, including 18.5 in 2012, Miller's absence would leave a significant hole in Jack Del Rio's defensive plan. And it will take a variety of players used in a variety of ways to cover for that loss.
In the base defense, when Miller lines up as the strongside linebacker, Bradley would remain in the middle, where he has moved in as the starter over the past three weeks. Irving, who spent the offseason workouts as the starter in the middle, would play on the strong side. Irving was Miller's backup on the strong side last season.
In passing situations, situations when Miller would move into a defensive end spot in the nickel or dime packages, it’s Phillips who would then be called upon. Phillips scored the Broncos' only touchdown in the preseason opener in San Francisco with a 9-yard return of a fumble caused by Irving on a blitz from an outside linebacker position.
The Broncos would like to use rookie Quanterus Smith as well in the pass-rush groupings. Smith, however, is still trying work his way back from a torn ACL he suffered last November in his final season at Western Kentucky. Smith has participated in every training camp practice thus far but was pulled out of practice Aug. 1 because of knee pain.
He has practiced since.
“I’m better every day," Smith said. “I’m working through it, I had a couple bad days, but that’s natural. I’ll be there."