Rams star Von Miller targets Super Bowl run

As kickoff neared before Super Bowl 50, Von Miller quietly prepared as a rowdy teammate stalked the Denver Broncos locker room.

“Who’s ready? cornerback Aqib Talib asked repeatedly. “Who was scared?”

Talib went from locker to locker. He looked into each player’s eyes, asking his questions like a mantra as the Broncos prepared to face the Carolina Panthers.

When Talib approached the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Miller, the outside linebacker calmly turned and locked eyes with Talib.

“What do you see?” Miller asked.

Six years later, Talib remembers it vividly.

Von Miller talks to linebackers coach Chris Shula during a Nov. 15 game.

(Tony Avelar/Associated Press)

“I could look the game in his eyes,” Talib said. “The look that was in his eyes was blank – he was blank, man.

” He was fired. I said, ‘You’re going to win MVP, bro.’

Talib was prescient. In a Broncos win, Miller produced one of the most dominating performances in Super Bowl history and earned Most Valuable Player honors.

It’s one of the reasons the Rams traded Miller, an eight-time Pro Bowl player and one of the greatest passing throwers in NFL history, in November. They wanted the 11th-year pro to play alongside star tackle Aaron Donald and help them qualify for Super Bowl LVI.

“They brought me here for the playoffs,” Miller said last week.

On Monday night, the Rams will face the Arizona Cardinals in an NFC wild card game at SoFi Stadium. A win would be the first playoff step toward fulfilling the star-studded Rams’ mandate to host the Super Bowl at owner Stan Kroenke’s $5 billion stadium.

Miller has five sacks for a team that rebounded from a three-game midseason losing streak to win five straight before losing in overtime to the San Francisco 49ers in their season finale.

Rams linebacker Von Miller (40) tries to get past 49ers guard Daniel Brunskill while rushing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

Rams linebacker Von Miller (40) tries to get past 49ers guard Daniel Brunskill while rushing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo last week.

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

“He made a lot of big plays for us. That’s why he’s here. … The games he’s able to do for us in the big moments.

Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald on Von Miller

Now the playoffs begin. Miller has 6½ sacks in seven playoff games.

“These are the times when we need our best players to be able to step up and shine,” coach Sean McVay said. “You’ve seen him play really well in some of those tough times over the last two weeks.

“That’s what we look forward to seeing Von continue to do.”

Miller, who was nursing an ankle injury when he joined the Rams, needed five games to register his first sack. He’s had at least one in the last four games, including one that came with a win over the Baltimore Ravens.

“He made a lot of big plays for us,” Donald said, adding, “That’s why he’s here. … The plays he’s able to make for us in big moments.

Star cornerback Jalen Ramsey said that when he played at Florida State, Miller was one of his favorite players. After starting his pro career in 2016, Ramsey and Miller talked about a day playing for the same team.

“He’s been in a position that we all want to be in and that’s winning the Super Bowl, holding that trophy,” Ramsey said, adding, “He’s been doing things at a high level for a very long time.”

Miller, 32, grew up in Texas and played at Texas A&M. The Broncos selected him with the second pick in the 2011 draft, and he quickly established himself with 11½ sacks and Pro Bowl recognition as a rookie. The following season, he amassed a career-best 18½ sacks and was voted All-Pro.

In 2014, Talib signed with the Broncos as a free agent. Miller made an immediate impression with her welcoming attitude.

“All I could need, he was like, ‘Man, let me do it for you. Let me do it,'” Talib said. players.”

During off-season practices, Miller’s talent immediately stood out, especially his leg strength.

“Von’s quads, they’re like riding quads,” Talib said. “He always had a quick start. … That’s the first thing that struck me. I’m like, ‘Damn, this boy is super explosive.’ »

Miller helped the Broncos make playoff appearances in his first four seasons before Wade Phillips was hired as defensive coordinator in 2015.

Phillips set up his signature 3-4 system and Miller quickly caught on. Still, Phillips, looking back, laughed as he recalled several rallies during practice when the exuberant linebacker was on the sidelines throwing passes.

Broncos linebacker Von Miller pressures Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

Broncos linebacker Von Miller pressures Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during a game in 2017.

(Jack Dempsey/Associated Press)

“Von, you have to watch what’s going on,” Phillips said.

“Coach, I can play quarterback!” Miller replied

“I don’t care if you can play quarterback,” Phillips said. “We have Peyton Manning. We don’t need you as a quarterback.

Miller had 11 sacks this season. He terrorized Tom Brady and recorded 2½ sacks in the AFC Championship Game victory over the New England Patriots, setting the stage for the Super Bowl.

The Panthers introduced league MVP Cam Newton. Phillips said the plan was to rush in with four players, with Miller tasked with trailing the quarterback.

“We were worried he would run with it,” Phillips said of Newton. “And then we went into the game, our rush was so good, and I didn’t think Cam could get away with it, and we said, ‘Well, we’re just going to start pressing Von. “”

Soon after, Miller fired Newton and forced him to grope. The Broncos recovered the ball for a touchdown. Miller forced another fumble at the four-yard line and the Broncos turned it into a touchdown. By the time the Broncos secured a 24-10 victory, Miller had 2½ sacks, two forced fumbles and one pass defended.

Von Miller holds the Lombardi Trophy after the Broncos defeated the Panthers in Super Bowl 50.

Von Miller holds the Lombardi Trophy after the Broncos defeated the Panthers in Super Bowl 50.

(Ben Margot/Associated Press)

Miller produced three more seasons of at least 10 sacks. He had eight in 2019 and then was sidelined in 2020 with a left ankle injury that required surgery.

Miller had 4½ sacks for the Broncos this season before re-injuring his ankle in an Oct. 21 loss to Cleveland. Less than two weeks later, he was traded to the Rams for second- and third-round draft picks.

“I fell asleep 4-4 and woke up 7-1,” he said during his introductory press conference, saying five times that it sounded like something out of a movie.

Miller said he wanted the Rams pass rush to recreate the famous Fearsome Foursome, but he warned in the following weeks that it could take time. He compared the situation to LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade joining forces with the NBA’s Miami Heat. He also referenced the teamwork between former Lakers Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Now he seems to be in tune with Donald, the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Miller has 115½ career sacks, Donald has 98.

Phillips, the Rams’ defensive coordinator from 2017-19, said the two future Hall of Famers have a lot in common.

“Both of them have so much power and strength and speed, but they also have the determination to be great,” Phillips said. “They’re always competing with the other guy, but also competing against themselves to be better all the time.

“That’s the common denominator.”

Talib, a five-time Pro Bowl draft pick, played four seasons in Denver before playing for the Rams in 2018 and 2019. Now an analyst for Fox Sports, he said Miller made five or six explosive plays per game.

“It was exactly the same with Aaron Donald,” Talib said, “but it came from midfield.”

Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris said it took Miller a while to get comfortable, but now he complements Donald, who has 12½ sacks.

“He’s really starting to find his way around Aaron Donald and how to play with him,” Morris said, adding, “I’m really excited to see that, and how that’s going to go through the playoffs.”

Talib too. Miller at 32 may not be the player he was at 26, but his experience and skill give him an edge, Talib said.

“He’s hungry — he wants another Super Bowl and he’s going to be super productive in the playoffs,” Talib said. “As good as he’s been for the Rams so far, I don’t think you’ve even seen the real Von Miller yet.”

Miller wasn’t the only star added by the Rams. Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. signed after the trade with Miller, allowing the two longtime friends to fulfill their dream of playing together and chasing a championship.

“I watched him, I was there with him in the offseason, I trained with him, I competed against each other,” Beckham said. “So it’s just about time, man. It’s time to put everything in place.

Miller is thrilled to be back in the playoffs for the first time since the Broncos’ Super Bowl. And he’s eager to share his knowledge on what it takes to win the playoffs.

“It’s here,” he said. “It’s time. I’m here. That’s what it’s all about.

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