So as all of you have heard, Von Miller will be potentially suspended 4 games for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Millers case is currently in the appeals process. Lets hope that the suspension is either completely lifted, or reduced to a game or two. In the meantime lets look at what Broncos players will have to step up in his potential absence.
1. OLB Shaun Phillips
Phillips is coming off a 50 tackle, 9.5 sack season for the division rival San Diego Chargers. He was originally brought in to help cope with the loss of Elvis Dumervil. It looks like Phillips may have to step in for Miller now.
I think Phillips could be a solid replacement for Miller. No he's not the same caliber player as Miller, but he can get after the passer still. Phillips has 69.5 career sacks and still has something left in the tank. If Von is suspended for the 4 games, i can see Phillips stepping in and doing a good job for us.
However I only see Phillips as a edge rusher though. I don't see him taking over for Von in the base package. I could see Nate Irving, Danny Trevathan or Stewart Bradley take over at Strong Side Linebacker in base packages
2. DE Derek Wolfe
Last years second round pick is going to be looked at to pick up the slack even more now. The pressure was already on before the news about Miller, now the pressure is on even more for Wolfe.
Wolfe will be looked at as the top pass rusher in the event of a Miller suspension. Many are expecting a big season out of Wolfe. Last season Wolfe flashed at times posting a 40 tackle 6 sack rookie season. The expectations are high for Wolfe among the fans. I see a lot of JJ Watt comparisons. If Wolfe does not have a good start to the season, it could be a rough start for the Broncos defense.
3. Robert Ayers
It's now or never for Ayers. Every year since he was drafted i have typed "This year will be the year" for Ayers. That year has yet to happen. Lets hope this year is that year. Ayers had a solid 2012 season in a reserve role, and he looks to build upon that, and have a breakout 2013 season.
The Broncos needed to get more out of Ayers before the news broke about Miller. Like Wolfe, the pressure is on for the former first round pick. Ayers have proven to be a solid run stopper in the NFL, but this year the Broncos will need to get more out of Ayers in the pass rush department.
4. DE Quanterus Smith
When the Broncos drafted Smith i did back flips(not really) but i was excited. Smith was the best pure pass rusher in the draft and only dropped to the 5th round because of a torn ACL he suffered at the end of last season. Smith participated in OTA's and figures to be close to 100% if not 100% by the start of camp Wednesday.
I don't see Smith starting right away, but i could see him making a impact early in a situational pass rushing role. Now a lot of things have to happen for him to see the field in the early weeks of the season. He first has to prove he's 100% healthy, prove he can do it in Camp and the Preseason and stay healthy. If he can do that, we could see Smith early and often for the Broncos.
5. DE/LB Lerentee McCray
The Broncos had to bid to sign the un-drafted rookie. McCray has the chance to crack the roster if Von Miller is suspended. The Broncos have had very good success with UDFA's recently and McCray could be the 2013 UDFA that makes a impact for the Broncos.
Now let me say that it's probably a long shot he would have a instant impact on the Broncos, but could make it as a special teamer/backup. Now McCray has the tools to do what Miller does. He's quick off the snap, and has the speed and the burst to get to the QB. With solid coaching by Del Rio and Fox he could blossom into a solid player for the Broncos down the road.
Overall i think the Broncos have the depth to survive on Defense without Miller, but have tons of questions. Will Robert Ayers break out in 2013? Will Derek Wolfe improve on his rookie season?, Does Shaun Phillips have anything left in the tank? Can rookie Quanterus Smith make a early impact in his rookie year? The Broncos had these questions before the Von Miller news, but still had Miller to lead the way. Now potentially without Miller for the first four games these questions are even bigger for the Broncos.
Lets hope this becomes a non-issue and we have Miller week one against the Ravens, but until then we have to look for other guys to step up.