ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos will welcome back Von Miller with a 6-0 record if they take care of business against the winless Jacksonville Jaguars.
Just because they’ve handled their business doesn’t mean they haven’t sorely missed their suspended All-Pro linebacker.
Without Miller to command double teams and pester the passer like he did while racking up 30 sacks in his first two seasons, the Broncos find themselves ranked dead last in the league against the pass.
Despite a No. 1 ranking against the run, they own the 29th-best defense overall, hardly the formula for a championship even with Peyton Manning’s terrific start.
“You want to win. But winning these games doesn’t put a ring on our fingers,” Champ Bailey said. “I mean, we’ve got to get better. We know that. That’s what it boils down to: how good are we going to get?”
Miller will have a lot to say about that.
During his six-game drug suspension, he was banned from the practice field but not the weight room, and it’s obvious as he struts around shirtless in the locker room that he has a thicker torso and biceps.
“I’m like, ‘Von, you look like you almost might just play D-end,” teammate Chris Harris said.
Miller said last summer that he was undersized and “that’s always been a goal for me is to be bigger, stronger, faster,” so he wanted to get up to 260 pounds, five more than last year and 23 more than 2011, when he won the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
To that end, he spent some time during his suspension working with a personal trainer, which Harris said was a message to his teammates about Miller’s determination to atone for his mistakes.
Miller will have to shake off the rust and regain his cardiovascular conditioning and it’s likely he’ll need plenty of breathers when he makes his 2013 debut at Indianapolis on Oct. 20. But his presence is expected to raise everybody else’s game because of the attention he commands.
“Von Miller is our guy,” Harris said. “We can’t wait to have him.”
First things first.
“We’re excited about that one but we’ve still got a little bit of time to wait here,” defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said Thursday.
The Broncos are busy shuffling their linebacker group with defensive captain Wesley Woodyard missing practice all week with a shoulder stinger he suffered last week.
Woodyard leads the team in tackles (35) and quarterback hurries (seven) in his first season at middle linebacker.
“He does a great job of getting that defense set. He’s very vocal. He’s the energy of that defense,” Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew said. “He’s the guy that we have to be ready for.”
Paris Lenon, a 12th-year pro who started 16 games in six of the past seven seasons, figures to be the man in the middle between Danny Trevathan and Nate Irving if Woodyard is held out Sunday.
“That’s one person that people don’t really talk about much,” Bailey said, “but he’s been our ‘X’ factor because he’s a guy that can play all the positions and he’s got a lot of experience.”
The Broncos love how Trevathan and Irving have stepped up in Miller’s absence.
“I don’t think they’ve ever blinked an eye,” linebackers coach Richard Smith said. “Do we miss Von? Oh yeah, we do. But to those players, it’s an opportunity for them to show what they have.”
Trevathan has two interceptions at weakside linebacker, including the game-sealer against the Cowboys last week, and Irving is playing the best ball of his three-year career on the strong side.
“Danny’s got some really good things that you can’t coach. He’s got speed. He’s got instincts,” Smith said. “Nate’s been great. I know for a fact he’s gotten a lot more confidence in himself. Not that he lacked it before, but he’s feeling good about himself.”
With a mix of good genetics and attention to nutrition and conditioning, Lenon looks much younger than his 35 years, and he’s fresh after being inactive since Sept. 23 because of a strained thigh.
“He’s been a vet for a long time,” Smith said. “So, what it does is it brings some more knowledge to the group, some more experience.”
And next week they get Miller back.
Notes: The Broncos will honor recently retired Rockies 1B Todd Helton on Sunday when he serves as honorary captain during the pregame coin toss. ... Harris (concussion, limited) returned to practice Thursday.