DENVER — When Von Miller had 14.5 sacks in the season he was 29 years old and 98.0 career sacks before his 30th birthday, age never came up.
Von isn’t getting older; Von is getting better.
But when he slumped to 8.0 sacks last season at the age 30, and he’ll play at 31 years old this season, Question No. 2 in our 9-question Broncos training camp preview becomes:
Can Von Miller become Von Miller again?
There are examples of other pass rushers who suggest he can -- and signs in Miller’s own offseason workout regiment that says he will.
From the mere 24 pass rushers who rank ahead of Miller on the NFL’s all-time sack list, let’s look at three who resemble him in terms of size, style and outside linebacker position – Terrell Suggs, Rickey Jackson and Derrick Thomas.
Suggs, who is No. 8 on the all-time list with 139.0 sacks, had 2.0 sacks in 8 games in the 2012 season in which he turned 30. Yes, he missed the first half of the season to recover from an Achilles injury he suffered in the spring.
But Suggs bounced back with 10.0 sacks the next year at age 31 and had 12.0 at age 32.
Jackson, who is 16th all-time with 128.0 sacks, had a three-year slump from 30 to 32 years old in which he had 7.0, 7.5 and 6.0 sacks. But then from ages 33 to 35, his sack totals were 11.5, 13.5 and 11.5. It wasn’t age. It was adjustment.
Thomas, a perennial double-digit sacker, fell off to 9.5 in 1997 when he played at 30 years old. He rebounded to 12.0 sacks in 1998 when he was 31.
So if Miller has a comeback season of sorts at age 31, he wouldn’t be the first.
Then there’s Miller himself. He tweaked a knee in training camp last year and while he never complained about it, he never quite felt right all year. He never used it as an excuse although the knee did force him to miss a late-season game for the first time in six years.
Miller decided after last season that he wanted to size and muscle to his frame. There were times last season when he went up against the right tackle likes of Kansas City’s Mitchell Schwartz when Miller couldn’t get free.
While an April battle with COVID-19 didn’t help, Miller returned to his famed workout regimen in San Francisco, where he runs steps at a steep incline to build his thighs and hamstrings. On his social media posts, Miller isn’t shown lifting 15 reps of medium weight but two to five reps of heavy weight.
Perhaps at 31, Miller’s first step isn’t quite as quick as it was 26, when he blew by Carolina’s Mike Remmers on his way to capturing Super Bowl 50 MVP.
But Miller can be stronger, wiser and better. There might be a little more power in his pass-rush game in 2020. With Bradley Chubb returning from his knee injury at the other outside linebacker position, Miller should return to his 12.0 sack or so form.