How much does Von Miller think of Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly?
“I’ve got an autographed Luke Kuechly helmet right now at my house, hanging up on my mantle right by all my game balls,” Miller said Friday.
Miller is more than a talent at linebacker for the Denver Broncos; he’s a lover of the craft. He wasn’t always that way. He came into the NFL as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft (right behind Panthers quarterback Cam Newton) more as a physical phenom than a dedicated professional.
He got suspended six games in 2013 for using performance enhancing drugs. He was immature and unfocused, getting by on pure talent.
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And then DeMarcus Ware signed in Denver, after being released by the Dallas Cowboys. They played the same position – outside linebackers in a 3-4 alignment – but not with the same approach. Ware was the mentor, and model Miller needed to realize his potential.
Now they both have. These two combined for 22 1/2 sacks this season, as big a reason as any why the Broncos are playing the Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
Kuechly and fellow linebacker Thomas Davis are something special. So are Miller and Ware.
“We’re here. We’re in the moment now. DeMarcus is just four quarters away,” from a championship in his 11th NFL season, Miller said.
“I think that brings energy in itself. That brings excitement in itself. I guess that’s just where the energy and all the stuff came from. We’re trying to get it for DeMarcus and Peyton (Manning).”
Ware and Manning are captains, responsible for the entire group. Coach Gary Kubiak said he has great trust in their leadership.
But the Ware-Miller relationship is something else beyond captain stuff. Ware had the credentials at the position to get Miller’s attention.
And to set him straight.
“You get to see greatness up close and personal. The coaches always tell you this is what leadership looks like,” Miller said.
“You’ve got all these greats that come through here, and they tell you this and they tell you that, but having a real-life example just a couple feet from me and him being my idol, it was just great.
“I get to come in and see what type of shoes he wore every day, how he laces up his shoes, how he comes to work, how does he handle adversity from the injuries and all that stuff. I got to see it up close and personal, and that just helped me be the type of person I am today.”
This has become a daily ritual – part-friendship/part-competition. They hold each other accountable at the most basic and constant level.
“We push each other a lot,” Ware said.
“We started from OTAs, from working out: ‘How much weight do you have on there?’ We’re out there on the field: ‘How many pressures can we get? How many sacks or big plays can we get each game or in practice?’ It starts in practice. It’s been a big thing for both of us, and that’s what you need.”
All this culminated in the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots. Miller had an exceptional game with 2 1/2 sacks and an interception of Tom Brady. Ware had half a sack, combining with Miller on one of four sacks of Brady.
In total Brady was hit 20 times in a 20-18 Broncos victory that got Denver to Santa Clara, Calif., for the Super Bowl.
“We got off on the ball probably as well as I saw us get off all year with our edge guys,” Kubiak said. “DeMarcus and Von, that had a lot to do with it.”
Now they face a whole different quarterback in Newton, a guy of Miller’s and Ware’s dimensions who is as dangerous a runner as he is a passer.
Miller can’t wait.
“I don’t think there’s another quarterback that’s ever played the game the way he does, especially the way his personality is on the field,” Miller said. “I’m just a big fan of everything that he has going for him.”
Sounds like another autographed helmet in the offing.