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Manning ready to make his points on the field

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One by one, Peyton Manning answered all of the questions that existed -- and some that arose through the offseason as training camp loomed.

How would his surgically repaired neck hold up when he took a hit? Evidently, fine, because he absorbed shots from Seattle's Bruce Irvin and San Francisco's Parys Haralson and quickly arose.

How strong would his arm be?

Perhaps not as strong as it was for most of his years in Indianapolis, but still with enough pop for him to scatter passes all around the field and hit receivers deep, which he showed off in practice and then against the 49ers on Aug. 26, when he hit running back Lance Ball in stride for a 38-yard gain.

How accurate would he be? You don't want to hype up preseason statistics too much, since they can be flawed by representing a small sample size, but Manning's 71.4 completion percentage was topped by only two other starters this summer: Atlanta's Matt Ryan and Baltimore's Joe Flacco.

The rising tide of improvement for Manning and his new teammates finally crested against the 49ers, when he completed eight consecutive passes, finished the day 10-of-12 for 122 yards and didn't throw an interception. The offense's play was so comprehensive that Manning was benched after one quarter, a highly unusual move in the game where starters typically play at least to halftime.

Until then, there were murmurs of doubt from outside the Broncos about Manning's ability to bounce back from a hit or finding his timing fast enough. Those didn't translate to the locker room, where his coaches remained steadfastly in Manning's corner and his teammates didn't understand the hubbub when the fans wildly cheered Manning's ability to get up from a hit.

"We knew when we signed him what we were dealing with and where he was at that point in time," said offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.

Manning thought in March that he could have played at that moment if the need arose, but that his arm strength would be compromised since he was only midway through the rehabilitation process following his fourth neck surgery in 2011.

Four months later, he wasn't concerned about any potential physical limitations, or even hung up on trying to replicate his old offense in Indianapolis.

"I don't think there's any barrier with this offense," Manning said. "What I've done in my past on the teams I've played on I think are really irrelevant to this year's team. We're still forming our identity, seeing what plays we can hang our hat on."

Although the offense looks familiar to what Manning ran in Indianapolis -- featuring three wide-receiver sets, tight ends as slot receivers and running backs who can split out wide when the need arises -- there are a few differences. The nomenclature, for one; the offense is written in the language the Broncos have used since 2009, when McCoy arrived to work under ex-head coach Josh McDaniels. The use of a fullback, for another; the Broncos' only first-team rushing touchdown of the preseason and Willis McGahee's longest run came when fullback Chris Gronkowski entered the game and slammed open a hole for McGahee to exploit.

"He wants some new ideas and to run some new things," said McCoy. "There's a lot of things he hasn't done, that he's excited to look at, (to) get in some two-back situations, things he hasn't done a whole lot of. We've had a lot of success with that here in the past couple of years, so we're going to continue to build that."

Now, only one question lingers above all -- will Manning's presence be enough to carry the Broncos back to the Super Bowl for the first time in 14 years? They're not as close as it might appear. Questions about throughout the roster, and this remains a franchise that is suffering from some bad drafts between 2004 and 2009, leaving depth in question.

A Super Bowl title is their goal, but perhaps the Broncos are best served by trying to ensure they finish above .500 -- which they haven't done in six years. Manning might be answering all the questions so far, but others will linger -- and could delay their dreams for a year.
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