ENGLEWOOD - Shaquil Barrett spends much of his time examining football video. It’s part of his job as linebacker for the Denver Broncos.
He sits there, closely watching the screen. He sees hundreds of plays and thousands of players.
On Wednesday morning, Barrett was again watching video, this time from a Broncos battle last season against the Chargers. For some reason, he locked into the image of Von Miller and watched as No. 58 delivered a supreme effort to sack Philip Rivers.
Miller shrugged off a block from the tight end and then performed a dazzling spin around a tackle. He was bearing down on Rivers, who released the ball just before he fell into Miller’s clutches.
Barrett marveled at Miller’s quickness and power and imagination and determination. He said “wow” out loud, the same kind of “wow” many of us speak in press boxes and bars and living rooms when we watch Von at work.
“Normal guys don’t do stuff like that,” Barrett said. “He still wows me all the time. He’s really a one-of-a-kind talent.”
This is a strange start to a Broncos season. A year ago, the Broncos were strutting along as defending champs. Today, they are generally, if not unanimously, seen as mediocre, a long shot to rule the AFC West.
Maybe a one-of-a-kind talent can push the team to surprising heights. For the Broncos to emerge as a team that can win a playoff game, Miller must soar once again as one of the NFL’s most destructive forces.
On Wednesday, Miller was named one of the Broncos captains, joining Aqib Talib, Demaryius Thomas, Brandon McManus and Trevor Siemian. He shrugged when talking about the honor and the responsibility.
“I’ve always felt like I was a captain,” he said. “It’s just official now.”
Not everyone shared Miller’s view of himself. For years, Miller struggled to make peace with his potential, and that includes his leadership potential. At times, he was in danger of becoming one-dimensional – sensational while rushing the pass but lackadaisical against the run.
But he never stopped growing, never stopped reaching for more. He’s started 52 straight games. He collected 62 solo tackles in 2016, his best total ever.
We were blessed with our best look at Peak Von in the 2015 AFC title game. He devoured the Patriots' offense, inspiring Bill Belichick to frown with even more fervor than usual. He sacked Tom Brady three times, seized an interception and pushed the Broncos to the Super Bowl. No Bronco has ever played better in a big game.
But he might – and this is a staggering thought – be ready to climb even higher. He spent the offseason working on his stamina. He wants to be on the field for 95 percent of snaps.
He declined to talk about specific goals for the 2017 season. He realizes some offenses will obsess over slowing his pass rush. He plans to “wreck” games by alternative, less-glamorous means.
“If a team doesn’t want you to get a sack and that’s top on their agenda, if that’s the primary goal, ‘Don’t let Von get a sack’ then you got to find other ways to change the game,” he said. “I just try to be a dominant football player.”
Miller’s on-field act – the dancing, the posing, the shouting – can hide a dedicated craftsman. As he grows older, he relies less on his talent. He’s grown into a diligent student, a striver who yearns to be known as the NFL’s finest defender.
The Broncos could surprise this season, largely because of Miller’s hunger. Monday night, he’ll be chasing Rivers once again. It should be quite a battle. Rivers and Miller rank near the top of the list of the NFL’s nonstop talkers.
But Miller declines to play favorites in his backfield chasing.
“You know, I like playing them all,” Miller said. “I like sacking them all. Every single game is a huge opportunity, a huge blessing.”
Yes, a blessing. For him, and for us. Get ready: More “wows” await.