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Von Miller all in for Denver Broncos’ finale

The Broncos’ Von Miller celebrates a sack of the Browns’ Baker Mayfield on Dec. 15.

The Broncos’ Von Miller celebrates a sack of the Browns’ Baker Mayfield on Dec. 15. (Joe Amon / The Denver Post)

ENGLEWOOD — It would be difficult to blame linebacker Von Miller for taking a Sunday rest.

The Broncos, well outside the playoff picture at 6-9, host the 11-win Chargers at Mile High with nothing much to play for in 2018. A host of young players in position for prominent roles would benefit from late-season playing time. Miller, a seven-time Pro Bowler with a franchise record 98 sacks (and counting), has nothing to prove.

So why even suit up?

“When I was a little kid, thinking about playing in the National Football League … I thought about playing in games. I didn’t think about going to the playoffs or playing for a wild-card position,” Miller said. “I played solely for the love of the game. And my heart hasn’t changed at all.”

Beyond the sappy football sentiment, though, are a variety of reasons Miller is locked in for Week 17.

Miller played alongside youth across Denver’s defense as evidenced by season snap counts for linebacker Bradley Chubb (803), linebacker Josey Jewell (423) and cornerback Isaac Yiadom (233). Their learning curve has aided in Denver’s overall inconsistent defensive play. Although Miller’s faith in their development hasn’t shaken.

“We’ve made great steps with our organization and with our team,” Miller said. “It still didn’t end up the way we wanted it to. But we’ve got some damn good rookies here. We’ve got a solid group of foundational players here. I’m looking forward to the future. It’s going to be a good one for us.”

Chubb leads all Broncos’ rookies with 15 games started and stands three sacks shy of breaking the rookie season sack record (1999, Titans’ Jevon Kearse: 14.5). Chubb recorded a trio of sacks against the Rams’ Jared Goff in October. Chubb’s chances for a repeat only improve should the Chargers account for Miller on the field.

“I’m blessed to be a part of that,” Miller said, “and I’m blessed to be a part of (Chubb’s) future career.”

Sunday’s result is also a matter of pride. The Broncos defeated the Chargers 23-22 in Week 11, but didn’t receive much respect in return. L.A. wide receiver Keenan Allen told reporters postgame: “I don’t think they played well at all. We dominated the game. Turnovers, we gave them some points and that’s what happened. They suck.” Quarterback Philip Rivers rubbed salt in the wound by describing the loss as “stubbing their toe” in contrast to falling against “good teams.”

“I’ve got another shot and they’ve got another shot, too,” Miller said. “Let’s see (who wins).”

Miller kept individual pace in 2018 for what’s in line to finish a Hall-of-Fame worthy career. Through Week 16 he’s tied for third in the NFL with 14.5 sacks including a personal best stretch of nine consecutive games with at least a half-sack. And, despite no playoffs for a third straight year, Miller is adamant 2018 won’t be remembered as a “wasted” season.

“You want to go to the playoffs and all of that stuff, but I’m building relationships with these guys that’ll last a lifetime,” Miller said. “I can call some of these guys up, it doesn’t matter, from first round pick to seventh round pick, to free agent, to whoever; I’ve got some strong relationships with some of my teammates in there.

“That’s going to last us a long time. At worst, that’s what I walk away with.”

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