ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — In many ways, it was the same Von Miller: Diamond stud earrings, the retro, 70s-style sunglasses, a casual way of breaking the ice as he sat down inside a suffocating semicircle of about 60 reporters and cameramen.
“Howdy, how’s it going?” he said.
Aside from those superficialities, the normally free-flowing Broncos linebacker never sounded more stilted and scripted than he did Wednesday, on the eve of Denver’s training camp.
Reporters directed 18 questions toward Miller, each angling at a different way of trying to get him to offer a detail — any detail — about the drug case that will cost him the first four games of the season if he doesn’t win an appeal.
But the All-Pro, Denver’s leading sack man for the past two years, never budged.
“Out of respect for confidentiality and out of respect for this being an ongoing situation, I can’t really touch on further details about it,” he said.
He repeated the scripted remarks about respecting the confidentiality of the process four more times and used the phrase “business as usual” three times.
He learned from one of the best, the amiably insipid John Fox, who walked into the head-coach’s news conference knowing precisely what he’d be asked but acting almost as if there wasn’t anything to discuss.
“We are aware of the reports,” Fox said. “Due to confidentiality, we can’t report. But I can sit here and tell you here, as of right now when we start camp, every one of our players is eligible, there are no suspensions and that is the way we will start the season.”
Meaning, Fox said, that Miller will practice with the first team until the NFL offers official word about his appeal.
If Miller does not win the appeal, he can practice with the Broncos through their last preseason game, Aug. 29, after which he would be banished from the team for the next four weeks.
If he does win the appeal, no official announcement will come and Miller will be on the field for the opener, Sept. 5 against Baltimore.
Either way, the man who recorded 30 sacks for Denver over his first two seasons promised that “when this is all done and resolved, I will sit down with all you guys and be candid about everything.”
In the meantime, he confirmed as true a statement from the union asserting Miller’s positive test had nothing to do with performance-enhancing drugs.
Under the NFL’s PED policy, a first-time offense nets a suspension. Under its more general substance-abuse policy, players are placed into Stage 2 of the policy after initial positive tests. Once in Stage 2, a player is subject to a four-game suspension for subsequent positive tests.
The Denver Post has reported Miller tested positive for marijuana and amphetamine use during his rookie season in 2011, which is what led to him being placed in Stage 2 of the drug program.
Asked bluntly if marijuana — now legal in Colorado — is part of his life, Miller responded: “Absolutely not.”
Does he have any regrets?
“Like I said, I can’t really touch on too much stuff about that,” he said.
If Miller does miss time, the first option to replace him would be Shaun Phillips, the 10-year veteran the Broncos signed during draft week as a potential replacement for Elvis Dumervil. Miller and Dumervil accounted for 29½ of Denver’s league-leading 52 sacks last season.
Other candidates to move into Miller’s strongside linebacker spot, considered the fulcrum of a Jack Del Rio-coached defense, include middle linebacker Nate Irving and fifth-round draft pick Quanterus Smith, who led the nation in sacks during his senior season at Western Kentucky despite missing his last two games with a torn left ACL, which has healed.
Has Fox thought about Plan B?
“No,” he said. “Because that’s not reality.”
Reality is, however, that the Broncos have had a distraction-filled few weeks leading into training camp.
It began with the suspensions of front-office executives Matt Russell and Tom Heckert for their drunken-driving arrests. It culminated with the news about Miller, whose status is in the air as the Broncos embark on a season in which anything but a Super Bowl trip will be a disappointment.
Champ Bailey, who as a 15th-year veteran is running out of chances to make a run at the Super Bowl, said he was disappointed when he heard about the Miller news.
“You hate to hear anything like that, especially one of your fellow teammates having to deal with something like that,” Bailey said. “It will take its course. But I stand behind my guy 100 percent.”
Miller said he feels everyone in the Denver locker room has his back.
“My teammates have always been great,” he said. “I think they’ll continue to be great. I’m going to continue to be the best teammate I can be, the same as always. Business as usual.”
AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org