ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Step by step, player by player, a defense that saw five starters finish the 2013 season on injured reserve, has closed in on its desired staffing.
Safety Rahim Moore has participated fully all through training camp as has defensive end Derek Wolfe. Defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson was limited in camp's early going, but has been back to full participation as well over the last two weeks
And now linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. -- both had ACL surgery, Miller in January and Harris Jr. in February -- are back practicing in team drills. Miller has steadily worked his way into more and more team drills and over the past week and has appeared in those drills in fully padded practices.
Thursday, Harris Jr., went through team drills in what was a fully-padded workout as well.
"I've been saying I feel great," Harris Jr. said. "I don't even feel like I had an injury or anything. My knee feels stronger and I've felt like I could do everything for a while. I didn't want to rush it and do something I shouldn't, but I wanted to work as hard as I could to get back as fast as I could, too."
It means -- other than linebacker Danny Trevathan, who suffered a fracture to the top of his tibia in Tuesday's practice -- the Broncos have the personnel they expected, and wanted, to have when they put the depth chart together.
Both Miller and Harris are expected to participate at least some next week when the Broncos and Houston Texans hold joint practices at the Broncos complex. And Miller is on schedule to play at least some in the Aug. 23 preseason game against the Texans.
That game is the Broncos third preseason game, when the starters typically play into the third quarter. Asked after Thursday's practice if people were close to seeing the Miller who had 18.5 sacks in 2012, Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said:
"If you mean the suddenness and the ability to bend and those things we appreciate and love from him, then yes. I think he is working his way back and is doing a good job with the way we have increased his work load and the way he's been able to handle it. I said it earlier in camp that I have no question in my mind that Von Miller will be back to his old self for this camp."
For his part Miller says he believes he is ready for big season and has drawn raves for his approach thus far. Many with the team repeatedly say the proof will be in how he handles himself on and off the field after his suspension- and injury-marred season in '13.
Or as Miller has put it:
"I'm in a great spot -- spiritually, emotionally, physically. And I think that's where it all starts. I wake up every day, it's great. I've got great teammates around me, great coaches. We've got colorful people in the locker room. It's great coming to work every day. It was like that last year, but this year it's just different. I'm looking forward to seeing what we can do as a team this year.”
Both Miller and Harris Jr. have repeatedly said going through the rehab from their respective injuries together has likely kept them both on track and moving toward their return.
Miller suffered his injury in the Broncos' Week 16 victory over the Houston Texans while Harris Jr. suffered his injury in the team's divisional round win over the San Diego Chargers in January. Their return to full participation will also allow the Broncos to line up in the personnel groupings in practice over the last two weeks of the preseason that will most closely resemble what they will play when they open the season Sept. 7 against the Indianapolis Colts.
"I'm glad going through it I was around a guy like Von," Harris Jr. said. "We could push each other every day. I think it helped us both and I think we both look as strong as ever, quick as ever, it will great to be back in our defense."