Denver Broncos' always-optimistic Von Miller says 2021 'feels different'

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The folks at the Denver chamber of commerce like to say the city flourishes under 300 days of sunshine each year.

Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller will take the over. Even after an offseason that included ankle surgery, an uncertain future with the team and a police investigation that was eventually closed with no charges filed, Miller moved into summer as a new father and with his usual sunny football disposition in tow. Despite missing the playoffs for five straight seasons, Miller says this one "feels different."

"I know I'm always super optimistic, I always say great things about my teammates, and I say great things about my team and I always have these high hopes and high expectations for my team and my teammates," Miller said recently, with a smile. "... It's hard not to feel that way. It's hard to not feel like we have a great team."

For much of the five seasons that have passed since Miller rampaged through Super Bowl 50 to win the game's MVP award, he's been the team's mood ring.

Before 2016 he said: "With all the talent in our locker room, great coaches, we can do good things ... I love my guys."

The season ended 9-7 as the Broncos lost three of the last four.

Before 2017: "We have everything, I love my guys and we can surprise some people."

The season ended with three different quarterbacks each starting games, each benched and each starting again on the way to 5-11.

Before 2018: "We have some great talent, great coaches, and I can do more, make more game-changing plays, but we can get back to where we need to be."

The Broncos were 6-6 on Dec. 2 that year, as Miller had already issued his "we're going to kick their ass" decree before a 45-10 October win in Arizona, but they lost the final four games -- never scoring more than 16 points -- and finished 6-10.

Miller was optimistic again in 2019, but months later, following a loss in Kansas City, he said "it defeats my soul" as the Broncos went on to finish 7-9.

Last summer Miller roared through the best training camp -- front to back -- of his career, intent on being a better leader and to make sure "Super Bowl 50 isn't the high point."

He suffered a season-ending injury days before the opener. It was the team's first major injury in what became an injury-riddled slog to 5-11 that included a pile of players on injured reserve and one game with no quarterbacks in uniform due to violations of COVID-19 protocols.

Five straight playoffs misses. Miller knows when he's "super optimistic" or getting "carried away," but this time around, he does feel differently about the Broncos chances.

The return of wide receiver Courtland Sutton from last season's knee injury, the additions on defense in free agency and the draft, including first-round pick Pat Surtain II (as Miller said "I love that guy, by the way"), that fellow linebacker Bradley Chubb "is a beast" and the quality of training camp and preseason when the Broncos first-, second-, and third-team defense did not surrender a touchdown has Miller feeling good again.

"We have some of the same players we had last year, but our team looks totally different," Miller said. "The energy is totally different. I know I get carried away with some of the comments about my teammates, and I have high expectations for my teammates. This year is going to be a great year for our guys."

Miller has some company when it comes to optimism this year, albeit with caveats.

"It's definitely one of the best units I've been a part of considering the talent we have on paper," safety Kareem Jackson said of the team's upgraded secondary. "Everybody has their expectations for us. We have expectations for ourselves. At the end of the day, it's about coming out and putting in the work. We can say what we want to be and so can everybody else. We have to go out and we have to do it consistently every day."

"I definitely view this as a team that we have a ton of talent," quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. "We have an opportunity to do something special, but it can't be all talk. Every day that we come out here, every day we step foot in this building, we all have to have the same mindset and we all have to have a common goal. That's the thing that I love about football, it's the ultimate team sport where you put aside all your personal goals and your egos and you come together for one common goal -- that's to win. You can sense that around here."

For Miller, he admits it will all unfold in the weeks and months to come, but he can't be stopped right now from unpacking his optimism.

"It's like I've said, 'It feels different,'" he said. "It just feels different."