HENDERSON, Nev. – Von Miller walked though the gates of the high school, facing the field and the mountains and ready to learn.
It was the sixth annual Von Miller Pass Rush Summit, this year once again in Nevada. Miller invited players from all around the league to join him for a day of fieldwork and film study in Henderson, all revolving around the art of the pass rush. He’s there to help teach, but even at age 33, entering his 12th year in the league and the first with the Buffalo Bills, he still wants to improve.
Among the dozens of NFL participants at Pinecrest Academy of Nevada – Sloan Canyon on Saturday, there was a range from rookies to retired players. A few college players were able to join, and the afternoon film session had remote participants.
Bills second-year edge rushers Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham and third-year defensive end A.J. Epenesa flew out to Las Vegas for the two-day event.
“The years go by fast, and this is just another way for me to give back to the game that gave so much to me,” Miller told the crowd of players Saturday. “This is my way of paying it back to y’all, paying it back to the game.”
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“It’s definitely fun, and the best thing about him is, he’s obviously done a lot of great things in this league, but he’s hungry for more,” Brady said of Allen in his first interview since being hired in February.
But Miller is far from the only player paying back. DeMarcus Ware, Justin Houston, Chandler Jones, Maxx Crosby and Cameron Jordan were actively involved in showing their moves and pairing up with younger players for extra reps. Chuck Smith, who spent the bulk of his career with the Falcons and has trained pass rushers for years, guided players as well.
The osmosis of knowledge was always the goal for Miller, who insists that while the summit carries his name, it’s about the position as a whole evolving.
Miller started the summit in 2017. At the time, it was not just unusual, but sometimes criticized to share advice to opponents at the same position. Years later, it’s become more common for players to gather by position to train in the offseason, with Tight End University taking place later this month. But Miller never worried about that when he believed it could better the game as a whole.
“You see LeBron (James) and KD (Kevin Durant) get together for workouts. I feel like football, we don’t do it as much, because they pit us against each other,” Miller said. “They say this guy’s No. 1, this guy’s No. 2. … Don’t let them stop us from doing this.”
That approach is why he was quick to get more of the Bills’ defensive line involved.
Rousseau, Basham and Epenesa started the day in the same group, first stationed with Miller. Next, Crosby, who’s had 25 sacks in three seasons for the Raiders, jumped in with Epenesa.
After a bit, the groups rotated, with Rousseau and Basham headed to one station, and Epenesa veering to another.
Rousseau and Basham found themselves with Houston, who has racked up 102 sacks in 11 seasons.
Houston told a story from the 2017 season opener. Houston, then with Kansas City, sacked New England quarterback Tom Brady twice, in large part from quickly figuring out the Patriots’ offensive line. Kansas City went on to win 42-27 over the defending champions, with Houston fielding questions from his opponents.
“The whole time, they were like ‘What [are] you doing?’ And I just smiled,” Houston said, as Rousseau and Basham listened. “The Patriots, it was the same every time. One, two, and I was like, ‘They robots, they robots.’ ”
After smaller groups for the skill clinic, all the players came together in one circle at the center of the field. Jones, who joined the Raiders this offseason, came to the middle of the circle first, giving tips on how he shortens the field and disguises his rushes.
“I’m getting off the ball with my hands already outreached. … It’s almost like one of those guys on the horses with the pogo sticks,” Jones said, before the chuckling crowd reminded him that the sport he was thinking of was jousting.
Houston also gave a creative comparison for how players can improve their footwork.
“I think you should live on ladders and jump ropes,” he said.
Whether their moves are more rooted in traditional football or in jousting, the goal was for each player to leave with some new techniques and to further develop their individual identity as a pass rusher.
“Here’s the great challenge for all y’all young boys: Some of y’all don’t know what your moves are,” Smith said. “I hope next year I know what your move is. … The great ones all have moves and the velocity to use them.”
Jones and Houston echoed a similar sentiment: They wish there had been an event like this when they were the same age as the Bills’ young defensive ends.
“I told Von yesterday, I said, ‘If I knew what I know now at some of these guys’ age, it would have helped my game so much,’ ” said Jones, who’s tallied 107.5 career sacks.
After the morning on the field, players headed inside for lunch and for film study. Rousseau, Basham and Epenesa sat together for the four-hour session, pulling up an extra chair so they could all be at the same folding table. There, they watched and took notes as veteran players went through cutups from last season.
“I’ve always felt like this is the most valuable part of the summit,” Miller said ahead of rolling Crosby’s clips to start.
Even with a heavy emphasis for all players to learn more, it was lighthearted throughout the day. That was especially true when occasionally lambasting certain offensive lines. There was a clear respect for the players lining up across the field, but some edge rushers were candid about their tendency to trash talk ahead of the snap.
“I’m literally just saying, ‘You’re fat, and I’m better,’ ” Jordan said.
Miller and Smith would sprinkle in questions throughout each of the cutups. Most of the questions during the film breakdowns were to further analyze what players were seeing. But Miller also made sure to have fun. At one point, he asked Jeffery Simmons if his celebration was premeditated.
“I dance 24/7,” Miller said. “I dance in practice, I dance in the locker room.”
Before each player sat back down, Miller hit them with a similar line of questions: He wanted to know what drives them.
“What are you thinking about?” he asked Simmons. “What is your vibe that motivates you?”
To Jordan, he asked, “What keeps you going? What’s your mindset? What’s your why?”
Crosby emphasized his routine. Jones loves the mental side of pass rushing, the chess match. Jordan, who wore a tank top, a sweatband and orange reflective sunglasses, said it’s competition over everything else.
“You never walk into a sport like, ‘Damn, I can’t wait to be mid,’ ” Jordan said.
It wasn’t just Miller lobbing a question so that younger players could hear the answer; Miller wanted to learn for himself as well.
“I just wanted to get their mindset on their motivation and compare it to my motivation,” he said. “At this point, 12 years in, this is really all it’s about: your why. Why do you keep doing what you’re doing?”
Miller won’t necessarily overhaul his approach to the game based off the ways others find success. But he thinks each anecdote can still make him better.
“Some of these guys, you can’t really replicate what they do physically,” Miller said. “But you can always take from their mindset, and what they’re thinking, and their discipline and their drive. … This is the only place where we’re able to do things like this.”
Six years of summits, and Miller, who has 115.5 career sacks, still gleans something new each time. His main takeaway halfway through the day was learning more about rush angles.
“I learned that these rush angles, especially on the inside, they’re effective, too,” he said.
Miller was the last to take the podium. He talked about 13 cutups, skipping over a few others, and weaving in advice and anecdotes over the next 40-plus minutes. Six of the 13 clips were from Super Bowl LVI, where Miller had two sacks and won his second ring. Even on plays where he did not take Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow to the ground, Miller gave deeper context to what he was watching and anticipating.
“In my mind, I’m thinking I have to get up the field, just in case the quarterback tries to leak outside,” Miller said on one play.
This approach was something he’d brought up to his new Bills teammates recently.
“A.J., I was talking about this, what? Two weeks ago?” Miller said from the podium, as Epenesa nodded across the gym.
That back and forth with the Bills players will continue all offseason. But for a weekend in Las Vegas, Miller was able to extend himself even further. He’s still writing his legacy on the field in Buffalo, but passing on any knowledge around the league is just as important to him.
“I think some of the most sustainable things that you create are created just off of love and created with no intention,” Miller said. “I created this for the guys, for us to be able to hang out. … It was just the little dream to hang out with the guys and talk pass rush.”