ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Anyone who watched the Denver Broncos practice during training camp could easily see it: Von Miller was ready. He was primed and had put every ounce of effort into his body to construct an impressive 2020 season.
The coach said it. The team's top football decision-maker said it. His teammates said it.
But with one awkward step to close out Tuesday's practice, all of that evaporated. Miller suffered a tendon injury in his ankle and will see noted foot/ankle specialist Dr. Robert Anderson on Thursday. Surgery is on the horizon, and unless COVID-19 somehow pushes the regular-season schedule into the new year, Miller will likely miss the 2020 season.
"It was just a normal play, he rushed around the edge, he never hit the ground, never looked bad," Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. "If you saw the video, you'd think nothing happened. But it did."
"It's a punch in the gut for everybody," quarterback Drew Lock said. " ... He's going to work to get back on the field as fast as possible, and we're going to work on winning games."
But no matter what anybody says, there isn't a next man up in the Broncos' defense. Not on the field, not in the locker room. Prior to Miller's injury, the upcoming game against the Tennessee Titans was a pick'em, according to Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill. By Wednesday, the line had moved to Tennessee minus-1.5.
This is Miller's 10th season with the Broncos, he's already the franchise's career sacks leader with 106 and the only player in the team's history with more than 100. He's also the only player in the NFL with more than 100 sacks since he entered the league in 2011. He is one of three Broncos -- Hall of Famers John Elway and Terrell Davis are the others -- to win Super Bowl MVPs.
He was named to the All-Decade team of the 2010s earlier this year and was still so intent on finding even a little more in his game, he started working out for the 2020 season roughly 72 hours after the 2019 season had ended.
Fangio had used the word "hunger" multiple times to describe what he had seen from Miller in the abbreviated buildup to the season. His personality, his talent, his desire to be a driving force on a team that succeeds are a foundation of how this Broncos roster has been built, a foundation of the greatest success the team has had in Elway's time in the front office.
Just this past weekend, former Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was asked to describe what Miller means to the current Broncos, as well as when Phillips was on the coaching staff.
"Sometimes there are really good to really great players who disappoint you a little bit, they have such big egos, it's hard to be around them," Phillips said. "And the other players, they like those guys just OK, but Von, he's different. He's genuinely liked by everybody. He's a well-liked human being, and that's not always easy in this game when you are a player of that level, a player that great. Not everybody likes those guys after the game's over.
"He's lived up to it all and even more," Phillips added. "If there is a way a great player can even outplay his great ability, he does it and is still doing it."
No, there aren't really any next men up for that. But the games get played and as Fangio has said before on such matters, "Nobody is going to have a pity party for you."
According to ESPN's Pass Rush Win Rate using NFL Next Gen stats, even with Miller last season the Broncos beat their blocks within 2.5 seconds just 33% of the time, third worst in the NFL.
The Broncos kept just four outside linebackers, including Miller, when the roster was cut to 53 players. Malik Reed, a player who made the roster as an undrafted rookie in 2019, and veteran Jeremiah Attaochu will have to be a big part of the solution.
Attachou was a quality addition last October as he finished 3.5 sacks in his 12 games. Reed had two sacks as he played about 48% of the defensive snaps.
The wild card this season is Bradley Chubb's left knee. Chubb tore his left ACL in Week 4 last season and spent the last week of training camp on the sideline as the Broncos rested him. Chubb has practiced this week, and Fangio has said Chubb will play in Monday's season opener, but Chubb is expected to have a pitch count of sorts with his playing time.
Rookie Derrek Tuszka, a seventh-round pick and one of college football's most productive pass-rushers at North Dakota State, is on the practice squad. Tuszka needs a little time to grow into the NFL game -- Fangio said he needed more strength -- but the Broncos might have to speed up the process there.
The season was already marching on as Denver went through its meetings Wednesday. And the Broncos will now go to work without their franchise player among them.
"The onus is on the team in general. ... It's going to take a whole team," safety Justin Simmons said. "... It's not going to be one guy who has to step up, it's the whole defense."
"If you're a good enough team, you can overcome these injuries," Fangio said. "There's countless examples of that over the years ... and we want to be added to that list. ... I have confidence [Attaaochu and Reed] are going to play to the best of their abilities. Neither one is Von Miller; they are who they are, and all we need them to do is for them to do their jobs to the best of their abilities."