The Denver Broncos received a great deal of justified praise for scrapping their traditional NFL offense and going with an option-variety set of schemes once Tim Tebow took over. By bending to Tebow's strengths and limitations, John Fox's team won a playoff game after a 1-4 start in Fox's first season as head coach in Denver.
Now that Fox has Peyton Manning on his roster, one would expect that things will be done as Manning did them for over a decade in Indianapolis -- once he got up to speed on the NFL, Manning became the Colts' de facto offensive coordinator -- deciding which play would be run at the line of scrimmage, assuring that his offensive teammates were lined up where they should be, and taking charge of offensive alignments even in practice. Most veteran quarterbacks do this to a greater or lesser degree, but Manning's need for offensive control speaks volumes and has produced amazing results.
Speaking at the media breakfast during the owners meetings in Florida, Fox confirmed what everybody already knew -- as much as offensive coordinator Mike McCoy did a brilliant job optimizing things for Tebow, there is most definitely a new sheriff in town.
"As he would tell you, he's done it a certain way for 14 years and obviously had great success," Fox said of Manning's impact on the offense. "We'd kind of be silly if we wouldn't take some of what he's done in the past and utilize his strengths and comfort zone. I think that was a factor and of course that came up. He hadn't been through the process [of changing offenses] in so long, being in one place, I thought he did a terrific job in handling that."
As Fox intimated, the best coaches don't simply stamp their players with the "my way or the highway" insistence -- because if you're doing that, someone else is building a better highway. The Manning offense has to be as much for Manning as the 2011 version was totally Tebow-centric.
"I think there will be some similarities. No different than from how much our offense from a year ago looked a little bit like [the University of] Florida's. It's just kind of how it is. That's what coaching is. You try to utilize your players and put them in the best positions so they can have success."
That's why Fox was able to take over a 2002 Carolina Panthers team that had won just one game the year before, and propel the franchise to its first and only Super Bowl just two seasons later. He understands the need to maximize his most important assets, and now that he's got one of the biggest jewels in NFL history, there's no question that things are going to change and move in Manning's favor. He's earned that, and the Broncos will be better for it.
"Peyton is like a coach on the field," Fox said. "He paints a great picture. He's going to direct traffic as well as maybe anybody in the league. That is that experience that I was talking about with our quarterback a year ago — it takes time to develop that. Peyton has been through those trenches, so he knows. As I think John [Elway] said, I think he'll raise all boats and he's very helpful. He'll speed up the process, so that's a positive that he has that capability."
Ah, that "quarterback a year ago." And what of Mr. Tebow, who is firmly entrenched in New York, and adjusting to an entirely different level of scrutiny (if that's even possible in Tebow's case)?
"I would never bet against him in anything, really," Fox said of Tebow's chances to succeed in the Big Apple. "He gets it. He's a great teammate. He doesn't have a lot of wrong answers, let me put it that way. Like I said, I'd never bet against him ... I think he's a type of kid that should be celebrated. I think there are a lot of so-so stories, and I think he's a good story."
Back to Manning, who will have to wait a bit before he can start to paint pictures for the Broncos in an official sense. The NFL's collective bargaining agreement limits practices and even schematic discussions between coaches and players, which has left Manning to work out with his new teammates at a local high school field. It's an unconventional methodology, but everyone knew that after waiting a year to see if his neck and nerve injuries would ever allow him to throw a football for a living again, Manning wasn't going to wait around for the bell to ring.
"There's been exchange of information, whether it be on paper or on video, but with the new CBA rules that's what we're allowed to do," Fox said. "Those are the steps we've taken to this point. We've got plenty of time — it's still the month of March. Once we're able to get the players in the building, we've got plenty of time to get anything and everything we need to installed. We got quite a bit installed during the season a year ago, so we'll be fine.
"There is no substitute for experience whether you are dealing with a young quarterback or a very veteran quarterback. [Manning] has that ability. We are going to push that envelope to the brink and let him take charge or be that General. I think our coaching staff is very excited about getting going when that time is permitted, and we look forward to that opportunity."
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