Von Miller and Sport Science

As we've noted here at IAOFM, new Denver draftees Sylvester Williams and Montee Ball were featured in segments for ESPN's excellent Sport Science.

Two years earlier, the Sport Science team put Von Miller through their testing gauntlet. I enjoy their work - they bring some solid technology to measure the things that make a certain player effective, and it highlights aspects of that player’s skill set. Even if it's a bit late, I thought I'd discuss Von's Sport Science segment here.

Watching Miller’s work is like seeing the Mikhail Baryshnikov of the NFL. Baryshnikov himself used to seem to leap up into the air and just pause there for a long moment; it was astonishing to watch. Miller reminds me of that quality - he often looks as if he’s playing at a different speed than the rest of the people on the field. He dashes through what are pauses between moments to the rest of us.

Von Miller officially racked up 19 sacks last year (20 by PFF's count), and the speed testing gives an instant look at why. It takes him only 2.7 seconds, from a standing start, to reach his top speed of 19.5 mph. To get that speed into perspective, it’s how fast elite wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald can run. Miller is as fleet afoot as many top wide receivers.

Sport Science loves new technology, and they were using what was then a new shirt from Under Armour, one that calculates both heartbeat and respiration. It came in handy. One big factor in game performance is oxygen replenishment - how quickly the body returns to its resting heartbeat. This matters greatly over four quarters of NFL football - the quicker your body can reach a resting heart rate, the more easily it can handle the physical demands of game play.

It shows that the body adjusts to its oxygen requirements more often, more easily, and for longer periods of time. Miller was also a standout here - when sprinting (the distance should have been given, but was not) Miller’s heart rate hit 141 bpm.  90 seconds later, though, it had dropped to just 70 bpm. That shows the high level of aerobic conditioning that he’s done, as well as demonstrating an aspect of his natural athletic gifts.

One of the things I look for in evaluating a player is how quickly and accurately they react to the start of the play. A single step in the wrong direction can cost you the precious time necessary in how to defend against what becomes a long run or pass. To test Miller, they placed him 10 yards from three players - a real QB in the middle, and a mannequin on either side of the QB.  Von was initially tested on how quickly he discerned whether is was a run or a pass, and then how well he reacted.

The results were unsurprisingly spectacular, given what we've since seen from Von over two seasons.

Miller discerned a pass play in just 0.27 seconds. He also reached 70% of his top speed in going after the pass, which he caught one-handed in the air above a crash pad. It’s beautiful to watch. When it was a feigned run play, he took out the mannequin (who was fitted with an impact-measuring sensor) with no mercy.  Miller hit with the same power as fellow Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware, which is not a bad mark to reach.

It’s no small wonder that Miller has had only 12 unblocked pressures in the past two seasons, as no opponent can afford to leave him uncovered. Predictably, he only failed to turn one of those into a sack. By PFF's count, that still leaves 21 sacks that he scored while being blocked - several by an attempted double team. Miller has commented on how the presence of Elvis Dumervil made his job easier, but I believe that Derek Wolfe, Sylvester Williams, Robert Ayers, and Shaun Phillips together should be able to provide him with the same level of coverage.

I’ll finish up with some of his highlights:

Having Miller in the front seven is punishing to an offense. He’s reportedly gotten even stronger this offseason, and it apparently hasn’t affected his incredible speed. The team reports that Shaun Phillips will be able to take his DE slot on pass plays at times, freeing Miller to roam and find the gaps and mismatches in the offensive line. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him break the 20-sack mark this season.

What may be the most enjoyable aspect of all from him is the sheer joy he experiences and demonstrates in his game. His dances of celebration are not arrogant or insulting - he’s just showing how much of a good time he’s having. He still deferentially refers to ‘Mr. Elway’ - despite his success, he hasn’t lost the innate politeness that’s joined with his honest exuberance to make him an instant fan favorite.

It’s going to be a heck of a season.

Learn to laugh at yourself. You will be ceaselessly amused. - Sri Gary Olsen

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