ENGLEWOOD — Von Miller wants his teammates to chill out in the midst of an eight-game skid.
That's why the Denver Broncos pass-rush specialist bought all of them a temperature-controlled mattress pad as a holiday gift — so they can get a restful night's sleep even during the franchise's worst losing streak in 50 years.
"I just like doing stuff for my teammates," said Miller, who once gave the squad whiskey and underwear for a gift. "I'm looking out for my guys."
Despite facing constant double teams to keep him away from QBs, Miller is still assembling another fine season. He remains a sack away from becoming the first player in team history to turn in six 10-sack seasons.
"It's kind of scary, because it shows me I've been in the league a long time," said the 28-year-old Miller, whose team hosts the New York Jets on Sunday. "I really don't try to focus on that stuff. If this was the sixth time that I've led the NFL in sacks, I'd be doing back flips right now. You have to stay even-keeled and come to work and grind it out."
These days, Miller feels like his role in the room and on the field is simple: Keep the team together. He's stepping up to be even more of a leader under such trying times and with the fifth-ranked defense constantly carrying the load for a struggling offense. It's what the leaders before him would've done, players such as DeMarcus Ware, Peyton Manning, Brian Dawkins and even Tim Tebow.
"That's what I can control. I can control my attitude and my energy," said Miller, who signed a quarterback-like contract of $114.5 million two summers ago. "I've had great examples of consistency from the leaders we had here before. I try to replicate that. I say all the time, 'What would DeMarcus say or what would Peyton say? What would Tim Tebow do or Brian Dawkins?' It's an imprint they left behind on me and I'm trying to pay it forward."
His message is getting across loud and clear.
"He keeps telling the guys, 'Keep doing your job and make the plays you're supposed to make and things will work out,'" defensive coordinator Joe Woods said. "Everything going on is disappointing, but he's been a positive influence on the entire defense."
No one more than fellow linebacker Shane Ray, who listens carefully to all of Miller's tips.
"When you're in a room with a guy like that, who's constantly coaching you and on your case, and sees the potential in you and decides to work with you, it says a lot," said Ray, who missed the first six weeks of the season with a wrist injury. "With everything that's happened this season, as far as our record and how teams have attacked him and to be as productive as he is, it says a lot about who he is as a player. That's why he's the top outside linebacker in the league."
Miller has at least a half-sack in eight games this season, including bringing down Dak Prescott and Philip Rivers twice. Of his 82 ½ career sacks, 15 have come against Rivers.
"Von's a player that if you don't game plan for Von, he can wreck the game," coach Vance Joseph said. "He's a special player."
The frustration of the fans over such a dreary season may be heard at Sunday's home game. Miller understands. He constantly gets feedback on his social media accounts. And while he doesn't respond to everything, he reads a vast majority of it.
"If we go get a win, I'm sure it will sway some fans right there," Miller said. "It's been a tough season all the way around. You can't sugarcoat it at all. It's been a tough season for everybody.
"Adversity, it reveals character. We have a lot of high-character guys in the locker room."
NOTES: OG Ron Leary (back), QB Paxton Lynch (ankle), NT Domata Peko (knee) and DE Zach Kerr (toe) didn't practice Thursday. ... With the cold temperatures Thursday, Joseph moved practice into the indoor facility — a move Ray realizes might be nitpicked. "Everything you do when you're losing is magnified," Ray said. "I guarantee they're like, 'You need to be outside to get toughness with all the losses they've had.' Come on, really?"