Published: August 24, 2013
DENVER - Von Miller faces a choice. He's blessed with the talent to become one of the most dangerous defenders in Broncos history.
Or he can join a long line of knucklehead underachievers.
Tim DeRuyter, the former Air Force defensive coordinator, sighed as he considered Miller's recent struggles. Unless you've been residing in a cave, you know Miller has been suspended for the Broncos first six games after violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
"There are very, very talented people living on the streets as bums who couldn't put it together," DeRuyter said Friday from his office at Fresno State, where he works as head football coach.
When DeRuyter, the former Air Force defensive coordinator, first encountered Von Miller at Texas A&M, he was astonished. When DeRuyter departed Air Force, he went to work as defensive coordinator at A&M, where he worked alongside Miller.
"He's the most talented player I've ever been around," DeRuyter said. "His burst off the edge. The way he can bend. The excitement he plays with. It's a little bit unmatched."
DeRuyter speaks the truth. If Miller gains control of his off-field life, he could pass Randy Gradishar, Tom Jackson, Rich Jackson, Steve Atwater, Dennis Smith and Champ Bailey and reign as the Broncos all-time best defender.
Or he could join a list of Mile High disappointments, a list filled with forgotten names.
When DeRuyter first heard about the suspension, he went into a state of denial. But he had seen an immature side to Miller at Texas A&M. He knew Miller had often skated on the edge of getting dismissed from the team.
Miller, DeRuyter said, often clashed with Mike Sherman, then coach at A&M. Miller departed the team briefly in his sophomore year, but returned after his father demanded he apologize to Sherman and promise to reform.
DeRuyter expects Miller to rebound once again.
"I know the great person that Von is, the great talent that he is, the great football player that he can be and is," DeRuyter said.
Miller can banish this suspension. He's young, fast, tough, and charismatic. He can turn this episode, which seems so huge right now, into a mere asterisk.
Miller is burdened by troubles, but he still showed glimpses of his talent and his probable future. With 4:10 left in the second quarter, Miller burst into the Rams backfield and had quarterback Sam Bradford in his sights.
A Miller sack, and the dance that comes along with it, seemed imminent. But Miller slipped just as he reached for Bradford.
He tumbled to the ground.
And immediately leaped to his feet.