Having most of his regular offseason life “cancelled” due to the coronavirus - including having to recover from Covid-19 - Von Miller found himself being very introspective.
And what he learned was that he wasn’t doing as much as he should be - as a football player, as a team leader, or even as a man.
“I thought about what I could do over this time, and I said, ‘Man, I’m going to train. I’m going to train every day, and I’m going to train as much as I possibly can.’ That’s what I did. I got lost in that,” Miller said.
But then he watched “The Last Dance” documentary about Michael Jordan’s time leading the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships and reflected on the untimely death of Kobe Bryant.
And Miller had to get real with himself.
“I watched what Michael Jordan was doing back in his prime, and I asked myself, ‘Michael Jordan was the best that ever played. Was I really making that commitment to the game? Was I really doing the same things that he did?’ Kobe was one of the best that ever played. Was I really doing the things that Kobe was doing? Was I demanding more out of my teammates? Was I demanding more out of myself?”
And the veteran linebacker, heading into his 10th year in the NFL, realized the answer wasn’t what he thought.
“I looked in the mirror and I said I wasn’t. I just tried to change that and I tried to work as hard as I possibly could. I didn’t take any days off, I didn’t go on any vacations and I didn’t do anything but work out, grind and reinvest all the time that I would usually spend on endorsements,” Miller said. “I just reinvested that time back into myself.”
But that also meant rethinking how he would invest in the Broncos. The death of Bryant and the revelations from Jordan motivated Miller to pay attention to the lessons from legends - including the one who hired him.
“I feel like we have a legend here in John Elway,” Miller said. “In years before, I shied away because Elway is a legend. You walk in a room and you’re kind of like, ‘Let me get out of here.’ After this, I kind of refocused and said I need to spend more time with Elway and more time around legends to see what made these guys who they were, what type of stuff they did ... so I can be better with my teammates, my family and the people I interact with on a daily basis.”
But his role as a team leader is perhaps where Miller hopes to make the biggest changes heading into the 2020 season.
Hearing Jordan say he would never demand of his teammates anything he wasn’t willing to do and reading comments from former Lakers coach Phil Jackson about Bryant inspired Miller to think more about his legacy as a leader and not just a good teammate and a hard worker.
“I felt like I was a great leader before, but I kind of shied away from the pressure of being the No. 1 leader or leading in the right direction,” Miller said, adding that he shied away from the pressure of being a leader in past years and leaned more toward being a “people’s guy” and a “fun leader.”
Now he wants the pressure.
“This offseason, I did a little research and found out that I want the pressure because pressure is privilege,” he said. “Here with the Denver Broncos, we always have the pressure of being a great team. I want that. I don’t want to shy away from that. Everything I can possibly do to be a great leader, that’s what I’m going to do.”
For those who may think they’ve heard this song and dance before, Miller has a message for you:
“It’s never too late to change.”
That’s right. He’s 31 and has red hair now, but he’s put it out there that he’s going to demand more of others and himself.
“I’ve identified the leader that I was before wasn’t getting it done. It wasn’t leading us in the direction that we need to be fast enough. It might have been effective, but it wasn’t doing it fast enough. I have to change. I have to be like those guys. I have to command more out of my teammates,” he said, adding that he’s also going to let his teammates know how much he appreciates them, how thankful he is for them, and how much he plans to work for them.
“I’m thankful to have a quarterback like Drew Lock. I’m grateful to have a guy like Bradley Chubb rushing on the other side of me,” he said. “At the same time, I have to work. ...I have to cut down on ‘Sauce Von the Don’ and I have to become more of a leader like Kobe and Jordan were. ...I have to meet with the Elways and the DeMarcus Wares and the Peyton Mannings, the guys that have done a great job, and I have to find a way to do it my way and lead these guys to the Promised Land.”