Shirt on or shirt off, elite version Von Miller has returned to Denver Broncos

In Week 1, Von Miller was one of the brightest spots in the Broncos' season-opening win over the Giants with a two-sack, three tackles-for-loss day. Dennis Schneidler/USA TODAY Sports

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- This season is a lot of things for Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller. He's 32, the most tenured Broncos player by three seasons, and he's in the last year of the six-year megadeal he signed in July 2016, a little more than five months after earning Super Bowl 50 MVP.

He has spent much of the offseason, when asked, explaining how he is "at peace" with how he's approached things on the field and off the field. And when Miller is asked about his age these days, there is routinely a smile and a you're-asking-me-about-my-age shake of the head.

"I've seen my picture with my shirt off," Miller said. "I feel like it's the same Von. I just think it's a different mindset."

There may be no better way to take the defensive temperature of the Broncos than to see how Miller is doing. If Miller is healthy, disruptive and celebrating after sacks, life is usually pretty good. If not, there usually isn't much going on by the time December rolls around.

Score one for happy, healthy and get-after-it Von Miller. He was one of the brightest spots in the Broncos' season-opening win over the Giants with two sacks and three tackles for loss. Sunday was his first game with at least two sacks and at least three tackles for loss since the 2018 season opener.

"It was probably important for him just to get something like that going," Broncos coach Vic Fangio said.

"It's good to see his face again in the huddle when we're breaking it down and everything," linebacker Josey Jewell said. "He's definitely a great player. It's just fun to see him go out there and kick people's butt."

Miller missed the 2020 season with an ankle injury and spent much of the 2019 season battling his frustrations with the team's struggles on the field.

While the Broncos are waiting for the return of the Miller-Bradley Chubb combo on defense -- Chubb missed the opener with an ankle injury and the two haven't played together in a regular-season game since Week 4 of 2019 -- Miller's Week 1 launch into the season bodes well.

Other than a franchise quarterback, few elite players have consistently flourished after their 30th birthday in the NFL like the game's all-time best pass-rushers. Bruce Smith had five double-digit sack seasons after he turned 32, Reggie White had 16 sacks at 37 years old, Chris Doleman 15 sacks at 37 and Michael Strahan had 22.5 sacks at 30 to go with 18.5 sacks at 32.

So when Miller slammed Giants rookie wide receiver Kadarius Toney to the ground for a 6-yard loss barely a minute into Sunday's game -- the kind of play he has made when he is at his best -- it signaled he's back.

"Sometimes players like him feed off of that and it gets them going," Fangio said. "They feel like, 'Hey, I've made a play and I can go make another one at some point.' And I think it's important too for guys like him, when they're going through a game and they haven't had one of those, they start pressing a little bit and get discouraged."

For the Broncos, who played with the lead only 27.9% of the time last season and didn't even hold a lead in six of their games, Sunday's opener provided the pass-rushing formula Miller and the rest of their rushers need to put up numbers. Time will tell if he can keep it up.

"It was a long road to get here by me personally," Miller said, "but when you get here you really don't think about all this stuff. You just think about wins and the next game, for sure."