Bills training camp questions: Can defensive end Von Miller rediscover past production?


Staff member

This is the first question of 10 in a series previewing Buffalo Bills training camp. Today: Can defensive end Von Miller rediscover his past production?

Von Miller collided head-on with football reality last year: A pass rusher in his mid-30s trying to regain his past form after a second career ACL injury is difficult. And frustrating. And disappointing. And question-raising.

Miller, the Buffalo Bills’ defensive end who had eight sacks in 2022 before sustaining a right knee injury, was blanked over 14 regular-season/playoff games upon his debut last year in Week 5. He couldn’t win around the corner against offensive tackles or track down quarterbacks out of the pocket. He wasn’t Von.

Now 35, can Miller be a true impact player on defense?

The Bills need him to be a player who can produce at least eight sacks to help replace Leonard Floyd, who took his team-best 10½ sacks to San Francisco in free agency. Get to eight, and Miller’s season should be labeled successful.

“I know what I can still do,” he said. “I just have to keep pushing.”

Buffalo Bills defensive end Von Miller works a drill during an offseason practice on June 4. Harry Scull Jr., Buffalo News

Upon his debut in October, Miller was unable to get out of the blocks. The Bills finally sat him for a Week 17 win over New England (his first career healthy scratch) and his playing time was tapered to 15, 25 and 15 snaps in the final three games, respectively. No question, he was pushing to make an impact, but it never clicked.

Per The Buffalo News’ charting, Miller finished with five pressures and three knockdowns. He will carry a career-worst 16-game sack drought (his previous high was five games) into the Sept. 9 season opener against Arizona.

Miller believes he turned a corner after sitting out the Patriots game. He had two pressures in the playoff win over Pittsburgh and two tackles in the loss to Kansas City.
“My last three games were my best games of the year,” he said.

Said new defensive coordinator Bobby Babich: “There were a couple of plays (against the Chiefs) where you were like, ‘OK, you can see Von.’”

What did the video show against the Chiefs? Miller had four noticeable plays: He correctly read a screen pass and made a tackle; dodged pulling center Creed Humphrey for a run-game tackle; assisted on a tackle after a quality pass rush; and used a spin move to beat right tackle Jawaan Taylor to force quarterback Patrick Mahomes to throw incomplete off his back foot. The final play was negated by a Bills penalty.

Vintage Von? No – his last huge season was 2018 (14½ sacks). Encouraging? Kind of, sort of.

Also encouraging during the Bills’ offseason program was Miller working without a brace after wearing one last year.

“Everything revolves around my health and how my knee is feeling,” he said.

Expectations for Miller should be tepid because of his injury history (since the start of 2020, he has missed 29 games because of foot and knee issues) and age.
According to Pro Football Reference, 18 players have combined for 32 seasons of at least 10 sacks after turning 35 years old, and none since 2017.

Bruce Smith had 10 sacks at age 35 for the Bills (1998) and at age 37 for Washington (2000).

Other players joining Smith with multiple 10-sack seasons after turning 35: Andy Robustelli, Chris Doleman, Coy Bacon and Kevin Greene (three apiece), and Reggie White, Julius Peppers, Gino Marchetti, Claude Humphrey and Doug Atkins.

Miller enters the season with 123½ sacks, most among active players, and cares about becoming a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The magic number should be 137½ – the 14 eligible players who reached that mark have a bust in Canton and they could be joined by Terrell Suggs (139) in 2025.

“I still feel like I have a couple more years left, and I’m going to give it my all,” Miller said.

Getting back to double-digit sacks for Miller would be equal parts a huge individual accomplishment and help the Bills to a fifth consecutive AFC East title. Getting close to double-digit sacks likely would check the same two boxes.

“Von is working hard to get back,” Babich said. “The expectation is that minute by minute, we’re just continuing to get better and continue to train the skills that are needed for him to impact the game like we need him to.”