Peyton Manning pats a reporter on the head after an 'interesting' question. (AP)
For the most part, the glowing reports seen from early OTAs and minicamps should be taken with less than an actual grain of salt -- especially when you're talking about offensive players in non-contact drills, and quarterbacks throwing against defensive backs with no specific NFL future. That said, the Denver Broncos had to feel pretty good about the practice they set up on Monday, showing as it did the first real glimpses of Peyton Manning throwing in anything approaching game situations. It was the first time the media had seen Manning throw in his new digs.
Because of the restrictive practice schedules put forth by the new collective bargaining agreement, Manning -- who signed a five-year, $96 million contract with the Broncos in March -- had to do a lot of work with his new receivers at high school fields. Finally back at the team's Dove Valley practice facility with the entire cast in tow, Manning looked like ... well, like he looks. He ran the practice, lined up his teammates (receivers, running backs, and even the other quarterbacks), and showed pretty good zip on the ball. It allowed Manning to continue to answer concerns about his ability to come back from a series of neck surgeries that brought his long tenure with the Indianapolis Colts to an end earlier this season.
"We've had the opportunity to see him the past few weeks in Phase Two [of the workouts], and he does have great command," head coach John Fox said of Manning's progress. "He understands the game. As much as he's accomplished on the field, the things he does off the field in a leadership role is tremendous. Dealing with the physical part, he's getting better every day. It's something we felt good about, our medical people felt good about. His progress has been outstanding. We're excited about where he is."
Manning, who had been rather quiet about the physical aspects of his recovery after sitting out the entire 2011 season, felt that things were definitely headed in the right direction.
"It's hard to say," Manning reflected. "I try to get better every day—that's my goal. I really need to use this time. I do think there's a difference when you're on the field in helmets going against the defense. Up until now we haven't been able to go against the defense, so this will be great work for me. Going against [CB] Champ Bailey, [LB] Von Miller, [DE] Elvis [Dumervil], [CB Tracy] Porter, [CB] Drayton Florence, we just signed—we've got three great cover corners to work against. Until now we've been kind of just throwing passes versus air. You can work on your timing with the receivers, but really it's a great test to go against these corners. I'm looking forward to it and I'll try to use all these practices to see where I am and get better each time."
But how close is he to normal? That, of course, is the $96 million question.
"I don't know. It's hard to say. This was one step. There are kind of different phases—training camp would be your next phase, putting on shoulder pads, then preseason and regular season. I'm kind of taking it one step at a time. I was excited for this day to get here. I'm looking forward to watching the film, we'll go in and watch the film as an offense after this and learn from it. We'll see some good things. You always see some things you can improve on, and we'll go from there."
In Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, Manning has a couple of new, young, talented receivers to throw to. He's unquestionably the veteran who will be passing his experience along to willing ears, but how is that process going so far? "I've always believed that you develop your timing for the passing game in the offseason," Manning said. "I don't think you can just show up in September and expect to be on the same page. What a great opportunity for these receivers going against these corners. If you can't get better going against some of these top cover corners, it's just not meant to be. It's a great challenge for everybody. Offseason workouts are a great time to make an impression on the coaches. This is where roster spots are made and the coaches are constantly evaluating. So there are a lot of benefits to this work."
Champ Bailey, the more heralded of those cornerbacks, was sufficiently impressed with what he saw of his new quarterbacks. "It feels good to know he's going to be on my side," Bailey said. "What I saw today, he's going to give us some good work. We might not see a quarterback like that all year. It's going to be something that's going to get us prepared for games ... It looks like he's picking up right where he left off."
Manning was happy enough with that first session to clown on a reporter who asked him how it felt to be looking up at quarterback Brock Osweiler, the Broncos' second-round draft pick, who measures at least 6-foot-6.
"It happens to you all your life probably, right? You set yourself up for that one, sorry," Manning said with a laugh "No, no question he's a big, tall guy, athletic.
"Like I said, I can relate to that feeling, being excited to be here."
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