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Miller takes big jump in second season in Denver

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Miller takes big jump in second season in Denver

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Von Miller was such an athletic freak coming out of Texas A&M that his mentor, former Aggies coach Mike Sherman, joked he probably could have crumpled quarterbacks with one hand tied behind his back.

That's sort of what the Denver Broncos strongside linebacker had to do after tearing ligaments in his right thumb last November. He played the stretch run and the playoffs with a cast that prevented him from grabbing and shedding offensive linemen.

Although he faded toward the finish and was even benched in some situations, the second overall pick in last year's draft went on to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in a landslide and made the Pro Bowl, a validation of John Elway's first big move as the Broncos' boss.

It's only gotten better in Year 2.

``I have no doubt that I'll be a totally different player next year,'' Miller declared after running post-practice sprints one day in January. ``It will be night and day between this year and next year.''

Even though he has nine sacks, including a career-best three against Cincinnati last week, Miller isn't just Elvis Dumervil's pass-rushing partner anymore.

He's rounded out his game, dropping into coverage more and playing the run better while still getting after the quarterback - he's tied with Houston's J.J. Watt for the NFL lead with 17 tackles for loss, which is two shy of his entire total from his rookie year, and he trails only Watt's 10 1/2 sacks for the league lead.

``I think he's becoming more of a complete player,'' coach John Fox said. ``Some guys don't work on their weaknesses, they just kind of roll around on their strengths. And I think in his case, he's worked on some of the things he didn't do as much in college and that is mostly coverage and how he fits into the cover scheme.

``He's obviously got a lot of great abilities to rush the passer. I think that was evident a year ago, and I think it's evident again this season. He's a really terrific young guy that's not afraid to work hard.''

Miller said his thumb injury that required surgery last year was actually a blessing because it forced him to focus on technique and not rely so heavily on his athleticism.

``You really take for granted your hands. You don't know what you've got until it's gone,'' Miller said. ``Playing with one thumb and one and a-half hands, it helped me be more technically sound. Before, I was just moving around, just using all athletic ability.''

Linebackers coach Richard Smith said he sees a more cerebral approach in Miller this season, and he bristles at the reminder that he had to pull Miller off the field at times last year, when rookies lacked the enormous benefits of an offseason because of the lockout.

``Last year he was an every-down guy, OK? He had a few times where I had to take him out of the game because of some sort of issues,'' Smith said. ``Right now, what I see, he's bigger, stronger and faster than he was a year ago. Even though he would say he did yoga this summer, first of all, he's got freak athletic ability. So, that's not coaching; that's genetics. That guy's a beast, OK? That stuff is all natural.

``What I like about him is his focus, his attention in the meetings, on details he's getting much better. He's a much better first- and second-down player that he was a year ago.''

Miller and Dumervil, who have combined for 15 sacks, making them the most prolific tandem in the league halfway through the season, are a younger version of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, who complemented quarterback Peyton Manning so well in Indianapolis.

``Certainly, Von has special athletic skills,'' Manning said. ``His ability to run, to cover ground, certain things that he has, you just can't teach.''

Miller said there's plenty for him to learn still so that he can reach the goal he laid out for Elway, Fox and Smith before the 2011 draft.

``I want to be a linebacker, not a rush guy, not a pass specialist or run specialist,'' Miller said.

He won't say he's made big strides in that regard, however.

``Coach Smith, he'll tell you, I've got a long way to go,'' Miller said, adding, ``I've made steps, not too big of hurdles or jumps, but I think I have definitely taken steps to being a great run defender.''

Teams certainly no longer run roughshod over the Broncos, who rank 12th in the league against the run a year after ranking 22nd.

On Sunday, Miller gets to face Cam Newton, the one man selected ahead of him in last year's draft when the Broncos (5-3) visit the Carolina Panthers (2-6).

``Von is a very elusive defender,'' Newton said. ``He's not very big in stature but he wreaks havoc with the things he brings to the table. He plays linebacker. He plays defensive end. He can cover. He can pressure the quarterback. He's about as all-around a defender as you can have.''

Miller and Newton became fast friends during the lockout last year, and Miller said he'd love to sack his friend so he could imitate Newton's touchdown celebration where he pretends to rip open his jersey like Superman.

``I'm his biggest fan. But Sunday, I definitely want to win,'' said Miller, who is a-half sack shy of Dumervil's team record of 21 sacks in his first two seasons.

``If I had sons that play quarterback,'' Miller said, ``I would tell them to watch Cam Newton.''

And hope that the film shows daddy putting him on his back a time or two.

Notes: CB Tracy Porter (seizure) remained sidelined Thursday, but WRs Eric Decker (thigh), Demaryius Thomas (knee) and Brandon Stokley (knee) were all full participants, as was S Jim Leonhard (calf), the team's new player rep on union matters.

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AP Sports Writer Steve Reed contributed.

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Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter:http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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NBA offseason grades: With Kawhi Leonard, Raptors shined most in Atlantic Division

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USA TODAY Sports

NBA offseason grades: With Kawhi Leonard, Raptors shined most in Atlantic Division

Here is a look at how the 2018 NBA offseason went for teams in the Atlantic Division...

Toronto Raptors, B+

2017-18 finish: 59-23, 2nd round of playoffs
In: F Kawhi Leonard, G Danny Green, C Greg Monroe
Out: G DeMar DeRozan, C Jakub Poeltl, C Lucas Nogueira

The Raptors had one of the more consequential offseasons of any NBA team this year. First, they fired Dwane Casey, the 2017-18 NBA Coach of the Year, following a season in which they won 59 games. Then, they pulled off the biggest trade of the summer, a deal that featured two perennial All-NBA players. They let go of DeRozan and brought in Leonard in return. If they hadn't parted with DeRozan and Casey, they may have gotten an A. But it's hard to tell how much better they will be following the deal and Leonard does bring with him some concerns based on his quadriceps injury and the fact he has only one year left on his contract. The Raptors do, however, also get points for re-signing point guard Fred VanVleet.

Boston Celtics, C

2017-18 finish: 55-27, conference finals
In: C Robert Williams, G Brad Wanamaker
Out: C Greg Monroe

One year ago, the Celtics flipped nearly their entire roster and brought in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. This year, they mostly stood pat and didn't add much of anything in free agency or trades. Their biggest acquisition was Williams, who they took 27th overall in the first round of the draft. The Celtics will hope they improve from within. They re-signed Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes, and should get Irving and Hayward back from injuries. They should have plenty of talent to compete for an NBA Finals berth, but as far as this offseason goes, they didn't do much.

Philadelphia 76ers, D+

2017-18 finish: 52-30, 2nd round of playoffs
In: F Wilson Chandler, C Mike Muscala, G Zhaire Smith, G Landry Shamet
Out: G Marco Belinelli, F Ersan Ilyasova

Where do we begin? This summer was about as dramatic and bad as it could get for the Sixers. First, they had to fire their general manager because of a burner Twitter account scandal. Then, they struck out miserably in free agency with LeBron James and Paul George, and in trade talks for Leonard. After that, Smith - their first round pick - hurt his foot. And along the way, Ben Simmons has been dating a Kardashian, flirting with the curse that has claimed many pro athletes before him. Philly did re-sign J.J. Redick and Johnson, and the Chandler trade was nice, but all in all it was an offseason that fell way short of the Sixers' expectations. That said, they can still get way better next season based solely on their young players taking another step.

New York Knicks, B

2017-18 finish: 29-53, missed playoffs
In: F Mario Hezonja, F Kevin Knox, F Noah Vonleh, C Mitchell Robinson
Out: F Michael Beasley, G Jarrett Jack, F Kyle O'Quinn

It's been a while since the Knicks had an offseason to write home about and this one is no exception. There was nothing they did that would flirt with an A-grade. However, the early returns on their draft are excellent. Knox and Robinson were both standouts in the Summer League and offer fans a little bit more hope about the team's future. As long as Kristaps Porzingis can return this season safe and sound from his ACL tear, the Knicks could take a step forward in 2018-19.

Brooklyn Nets, C+

2017-18 finish: 28-54, missed playoffs
In: F Ed Davis, F Kenneth Faried, F Jared Dudley
Out: F Dante Cunningham, G Nik Stauskas, C Jahlil Okafor

The best news about the Nets' offseason is that their trade with the Celtics, the one that stripped them of years of first round picks, is finally over. Next year, the Nets will have a first round pick. This summer, they once again didn't add any major pieces in the draft, but seemed to make some smart moves in free agency. The Davis deal is solid and Faried may benefit from a change of scenery. More baby steps for Brooklyn.

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Dmitry Orlov dazzles his hometown of Novokuznetsk with the Stanley Cup

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USA Today Sports

Dmitry Orlov dazzles his hometown of Novokuznetsk with the Stanley Cup

Friday featured Dmitry Orlov and his jam-packed schedule with the coveted Stanley Cup.

The 27-year-old native of Russia decided to take the Cup to Novokuznetsk (located in the southwest region of Siberia) for a meet and greet with fans by the Ferris wheel at Gagarin City Park.

It should be mentioned that Orlov's day with the trophy was nearly derailed after a travel glitch that sent the Cup to Novosibirsk instead of his hometown. 

Thanks to the ultimate assist from a helicopter, the Cup arrived in style and set up one memorable entrance for the defenseman. 

Orlov released this hype video which highlights his entire day on Instagram: 

Дорогие друзья! Огромное спасибо, что разделили с нами наш праздник! Для нас это значимое и большое событие! Ещё раз приносим искренние извинения за задержку с кубком! И спасибо за понимание, мы старались сделать все максимально быстро! Спасибо за тёплый приём! Нашим родным, друзьям, тренерам, отдельная благодарность! Вы сделали наш праздник, наш день! Мы никогда не забудем этот праздник! P.S. Лена @govor_elena , тебе и твоим родным, отдельная благодарность, если бы не ваша помощь, то не известно когда бы кубок был в Новокузнецке!

A post shared by Dmitry Orlov (@orlov_09) on

Talk about a banner weekend for the Washington Capitals. The Ovechkins welcomed their new son, Sergei Aleksandrovich, into the world and Orlov pulled off yet another spectacular day with the Cup.

 

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