ENGLEWOOD, Colo.—Only by lifting weights has a weight been lifted off of Elvis Dumervil.
The Denver Broncos pass rush specialist has been hampered by a sore left shoulder all season, an injury that's sapped his strength and caused him endless aggravation.
Over the bye week, Dumervil was finally able to pump some iron and build his confidence.
This was a step in the right direction for Dumervil, who had a league-leading 17 sacks in 2009 but hasn't had one since.
His lack of sacks has become a sore subject.
Dumervil missed all of 2010 with a torn pectoral muscle, a freak injury that happened in training camp shortly after he signed a $58 million extension.
This year, it's been the dinged-up shoulder that's held him back and curtailed his ability to pursue the quarterback.
"It's been tough," Dumervil said. "Life is not easy. Nothing is easy. I always feel like sometimes you get a bump in the road and it's how you respond. It's how you come out of it."
Dumervil figures this would be a perfect week to break out of his sack funk. He's returning home to Miami as the Broncos (1-4) face the Dolphins (0-5) in a matchup of two reeling teams.
The Pro Bowl defensive end has already been hit up for 45 tickets from eager family members who want to see him play at home for the first time since he was drafted out of Louisville in 2006.
"Extra motivation," Dumervil said of his homecoming. "Try to get this thing rolling."
Following a solid training camp, Dumervil was poised for a big sack season. After all, he had rookie Von Miller on the other side to alleviate some of the pressure.
They even began calling themselves the dynamic duo of "Batman and Robin." So far, Miller has five sacks while Dumervil has only applied moderate pressure.
"He's not quite back yet," Miller said in defense of Dumervil. "But I don't think he needs to be all the way back for him to make an impact on the game."
Even with his injury, Dumervil still draws a crowd of blockers. That's the kind of respect he gets around the league.
With teams watching him, it's freed up Miller & Co. to sneak into the backfield.
For that, Miller is grateful. And he doesn't think it will be all that long until Dumervil is back at full speed, joining him in generating a spirited pass rush.
"I look in his eyes every day and see a storm brewing," Miller said. "When the sacks start coming, they're going to start coming in a big way."
Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen can sense it, too. Dumervil has had a different attitude this week in practice -- a more determined look.
"He's a lot more confident about it now," Allen said. "He's excited about going out and really playing pain free."
Dumervil hurt his shoulder in a practice just before the season-opener against Oakland. He played, but was clearly limited -- and hurting.
He then missed the next two games before returning against Green Bay in Week 4, recording a hit on Packers QB Aaron Rodgers.
That's been the most memorable highlight to date for the player who's only 5-foot-11 and 260 pounds.
Because of his diminutive size, Dumervil relies heavily on his massive wing span to gain separation from offensive linemen. That, coupled with his speed, makes him difficult -- and sometimes impossible -- to contain.
But with only one working shoulder, Dumervil simply couldn't be a factor.
Now, he's looking to change that.
Over the break, Dumervil put the shoulder to the test. Nothing crazy, just 275 pounds on the weight bar and bench pressing it over and over again.
He steadily felt his strength returning. He steadily felt like his old self again.
"The stronger you feel, the more it carries over onto the field," Dumervil said. "The more you work out, the more you come out and practice, the more you use the (shoulder) and start not thinking about it, the more you feel confident."
The last hurdle is putting the injury completely out of his mind. He won't wear a harness, which he considers a mental crutch.
"Got to be mentally tough -- no excuses," he said. "No one really cares if you feel good or not. I've got to go out there and help."
Miller has been studying Dumervil's moves in film sessions, paying close attention to how such a small player consistently blows by so many blockers.
"It's his technique, his hands," Miller explained. "He's not the biggest out there. He's not the strongest out there. But his technique is out of this world."
Notes: Broncos RB Willis McGahee was limited in practice Thursday because of what was labeled on the injury report as a back injury. Coach John Fox said it was to give him a rest day. ... Safety Brian Dawkins (head/neck) made it through a full practice after being dinged up against San Diego. "The (bye week) was perfect for me," Dawkins said. "I was able to heal up and get everything under control." ... TE Julius Thomas (ankle) was limited in practice. ... DB Champ Bailey on the buzz surrounding QB Tim Tebow: "It's the `Tim Tebow effect.' It's amazing the crowd he draws, and it's like he can't do wrong. I'll tell you what, if you can't win in this league, it won't last that long. He knows he's got to win some games, and we're going to do whatever we can to help him."