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Broncos positional outlook: Outside linebacker

Denver is counting on comeback seasons from star linebackers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb in 2020.
Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Denver.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — All players reach their crossroad season where their NFL careers can go either way.

Von Miller has finally reached his.

It’s OK to have a down season in the NFL. A down season at the age of 30, though, lifts crossed-fingers in the face of Father Time.

Miller, the most dominant pass rusher in Broncos history, enters this season coming off a down year at the age of 31. After averaging 13.3 sacks in his previous seven healthy seasons, Miller slipped to 8.0 sacks in 15 games last year.

A Von Miller rebound would not be unprecedented either by him in his career, or other elite pass rushers past the age of 30.

Miller’s worst statistical season was 2013, when a six-game suspension and a knee injury explained why he posted just 5.0 sacks in 9 games.

The next year, a 25-year-old Miller had 14.0 sacks then had a historical 2015 postseason run that climaxed with a Super Bowl 50 MVP award.

He then added 38 sacks over his next three seasons before slumping last season.

RELATED: Von Miller becomes All-Decade selection

Can Miller bounce back to have another double-digit season in 2020? Look at Hall of Fame edge rusher Jason Taylor, who had 18.5 and 13.0 sacks at the ages of 28 and 29 for the Miami Dolphins. At 30 years old, he fell to 9.5 sacks. But Taylor at 31, 32 and 33 years old recorded 12.0, 13.5 and 11.0 sacks.

Terrell Suggs, who’s closer to Miller in position and style, went from 14.0 sacks at 29 to 2.0 sacks in an injury-riddled season at 30. He rebounded with 10.0 and 12.0 sacks at 31 and 32.

Miller has overcome a frightening bout with coronavirus this offseason. Don’t count him out for a comeback season on the field.

A look at the Broncos’ outside linebacker position for 2020:

Coach: John Pagano

He had little choice but to become a football coach. A former all-state linebacker at Fairview High School in Boulder, son of legendary high school coach Sam Pagano and younger brother of Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, John enters his 25th season as an NFL coach, first with his hometown Broncos.

Shawne Merriman, Shaun Phillips, Khalil Mack and Jadeveon Clowney were among the pass rushers he’s coached.

Credit: (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Von Miller on Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019.

Starters: Von Miller, Bradley Chubb

These two were the NFL’s second-best pass-rush duo in 2018 with 26.5 combined sacks. Only those dang-blasted Chiefs had a better pair as Chris Jones and Dee Ford combined for 28.5 sacks.

Miller isn’t the only Broncos star edge player confronting a question mark in 2020. Chubb is coming off a torn ACL that ended his season after four games in 2019.

While Chubb’s determined work ethic in the rehab room brings belief he will be fully ready by the Broncos’ season opener September 14 against Tennessee, ACL recoveries are never known until they engage in a few games.

Besides his on-field talent, Chubb has the type of mature leadership qualities that are considered essential to the Broncos’ locker room.

Credit: AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Bradley Chubb on Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019.

Backups: Jeremiah Attaochu, Justin Hollins, Malik Reed

After Chubb went down, Attaochu won a vet tryout at the Broncos’ practice facility. He didn’t get much chance to play outside linebacker until the final 5 games, when he posted 3.5 sacks.

As he previously played well for coach John Pagano with the Chargers, Attaochu was re-signed by the Broncos to a one-year, $1.5 million contract that includes another $1 million in incentives.

Hollins is a tall, slender Oregon product who was the Broncos’ 5th-round draft pick last year. He played inside and outside linebacker as a rookie, although by year’s end he settled on the outside.

Reed was an undrafted rookie last year who had a sensational preseason and finished the regular season with 2.0 sacks.

Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
Jeremiah Attaochu tackles Tyreek Hill on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019.

Competing: Derrek Tuszka, Malik Carney

The Broncos drafted Tuszka with their final pick in the seventh round last month. He had 13.5 sacks as a senior last year for North Dakota State. Got his degree in crop and weed sciences and owns his own airplane.

Carney was undrafted out of North Carolina last year, who spent last offseason with the Lions. He was signed to the Broncos’ practice squad at midseason.

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