ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Von Miller has sparked Denver’s defense this season just as Tim Tebow has energized the Broncos’ offense.
Like Tebow, he’s fading at the finish but has a big chance to turn this around Sunday.
The outside linebacker and No. 2 overall pick in the draft looked like a lock for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors when he collected 10½ sacks in his first 10 games.
Then, Miller tore ligaments in his right thumb making a big play at San Diego on Nov. 27.
He hasn’t been nearly as troublesome since, collecting just one sack this month while San Francisco’s Aldon Smith closes in on Jevon Kearse’s rookie record of 14½ sacks.
After having surgery to reattach the ligaments, Miller missed one game. Upon his return, he’s been unable to bend his thumb or wrist, both encased in a cumbersome cast, and he’s had only one sack this month and registered a single tackle in each of the past two games.
Now, Smith is making a push for top rookie honors. Although he doesn’t possess the same array of talents that Miller does, the Niners’ situational pass-rushing terror needs just one more sack to break Kearse’s record.
Miller is torn about that.
He and Smith, who was selected seventh overall in the draft, became fast friends during the NFL lockout.
“He sees the game like I see the game and I said before the season even started that he was going to have a great year,” Miller said. “But, hopefully I can fight him off a little bit.”
Miller isn’t a big stats guy, even saying when he made the Pro Bowl this week that he was all about winning games and letting the accolades take care of themselves. But he knows this a once-in-a-career opportunity.
“You only get one rookie season,” Miller said. “I definitely want to have a great game this weekend.”
He’s also rooting for Smith to break the rookie sacks record Sunday at St. Louis, where Kellen Clemens is likely to get his third consecutive start for the Rams.
“I talked to him last night and if it was anybody else, I’d feel sour about it,” Miller said of Smith. “But that’s my dawg and I know what type of football player he is. I know what type of guy he is. If he doesn’t get it, I’m going to be extremely disappointed in him.”