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Von Miller to be suspended 'at least six games,' per report

The Broncos could be without Von Miller, their leader in sacks last season, for six games. (Jack Dempsey/AP)

The Broncos need Von Miller to be a leader in 2013.

The Denver Broncos may not know exactly when or for how long Von Miller could be suspended to start the 2013 season. That Miller will be punished by the league, though, appears all but inevitable at this point.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that Miller's "suspension for violation of the league's substance policy is expected to be at least six games". That's a minimum of two games longer than the anticipated punishment for Miller, who led the Broncos with 18.5 sacks last season. Mortensen's colleague, Adam Schefter, added that Miller's camp and the NFL are "still in discussions", with Miller remaining hopeful of a four-game hit.

According to the NFL Network's Albert Breer, a diluted sample flagged Miller suspension, but "the the case has complications that go far beyond that". Per Breer's report, the NFL considered trying to impose an eight- or even 16-game suspension -- with the latter costing Miller the entire regular season -- before opening talks with Miller on a shorter punishment.

The Denver Post reported last month that Miller's suspension was not triggered by a failed drug test, and Breer's latest seems to verify that. However, because Miller reportedly tested positive for marijuana in 2011, he could be viewed as a repeat offender if he did indeed provide a diluted sample to league testers. Perhaps adding to the problems is that Miller was recently arrested for failing to appear for a court date.

The Broncos open the NFL's regular-season schedule with a Thursday night game against the defending champion Ravens. Their next five games, all of which it appears Miller will be absent for, are as follows: at New York Giants, Oakland, Philadelphia, at Dallas, Jacksonville. Denver then plays at Indianapolis in Week 7 and hosts Washington in Week 8.

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The schedule still plays in the Broncos' favor, with or without Miller, given that they start with four of six games at home -- three (Oakland, Philadelphia and Jacksonville) against teams with a combined 10 wins last season.

Still, an extended absence for Miller, on top of the free-agent departure of Elvis Dumervil and a preseason injury to Derek Wolfe, would leave Denver extremely shorthanded in its front seven and, particularly, in the pass rush. Denver did add ex-Charger Shaun Phillips this offseason, and he should ease some of the worry in Miller's stead, though that is a clear step down in ability.

The Broncos will enter the season as the team to beat in the AFC West, regardless of Miller's situation. But this comes as disappointing news, especially since Miller maintained over the past few weeks that he expected to win the appeal of his suspension.

GALLERY: NFL suspensions, fines so far in 2013