TAMPA — The Broncos offense, led by QB Peyton Manning, is getting attention from the Bucs this week, deservedly so.
But the Bucs aren't forgetting about Denver's defense, which ranks in the top 10 in most categories.
"They're an excellent, excellent defensive football team; that's not an exaggeration," Bucs offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said. "It's the best defense we've played all year."
A big reason why is the Broncos' man in the middle, LB Von Miller, who is tied for the league lead in tackles for loss (24) and third in sacks (14). Combined with elite pass rushing DE Elvis Dumervil (six forced fumbles), Miller wreaks havoc.
"He can do everything," Bucs T Donald Penn said. "He can play linebacker, play (defensive) end, he could probably play safety. He could probably score a touchdown at running back if he wanted to. He's a specimen out there."
Miller, a 6-foot-3, 237-pound second-year pro, is versatile with his pass-rushing moves and, like Dumervil, is adept at forcing fumbles, Bucs coach Greg Schiano said.
"Got to see him the first time this summer studying, I'm like, 'Oh, that guy is good,' " Schiano said. "When I watch him game after game in preparation for this thing, change that, 'This guy is great.' He's an elite player in this league for sure."
STAYING PUT: With CB Eric Wright's four-game suspension for using Adderall further depleting a struggling young secondary, Schiano was asked Wednesday if he'd consider using S Ronde Barber as a slot corner in nickel situations.
But Schiano seems more inclined to keep Barber in his spot at free safety, where he leads the NFC in Pro Bowl voting in his first year at the position. Barber, a mainstay at corner for 15 seasons, plays in the slot in some dime packages. But Schiano said that's more of a hybrid position and he likes the veteran's "command" at safety and how he works with rookie S Mark Barron.
"There's no doubt he can go out and play right corner or left corner, I don't think that's an issue," Schiano said of Barber. "We're stretched a little back there, we're young back there, but they're working their tails off."
PAYING UP: Though C Ted Larsen received an automatic $7,875 fine from the league for a personal foul penalty against the Panthers, he may not have to pay it all himself.
"(QB Josh Freeman) said he'd help out with that," Larsen said, smiling. "Got to thank him for that."
As Panthers DT Dwan Edwards was lying on top of Freeman after an interception, Larsen rushed over and delivered a bulldozerlike hit that knocked Edwards over, drawing the penalty. Larsen said he'd do it again.
"You don't know if (Freeman) is hurt or going to get hurt," Larsen said. "That's more of a safety thing."
BACKING UP: The Bucs re-signed G/T Derek Hardman, adding depth to compensate for the loss of another offensive lineman.
Backup T Jeremy Trueblood (shoulder) was placed on injured reserve Tuesday. Hardman is more or less a guard but said he has practiced at tackle in the past and played the position in college.
Since moving Jamon Meredith to right guard, the Bucs' only true backup tackle was Trueblood.
MISCELLANY: DT Roy Miller missed practice due to illness, Schiano said. Larsen was also limited due to illness.
Times staff writer Stephen Holder contributed to this report. Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]