Getting to see Peyton Manning throw in person at the Denver Broncos training camp last Thursday was a special treat. As a Broncos fan, I had been forced to watch quarterbacks the likes of Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton toss passes to receivers over the past few years when I attended training camp. Manning is many cuts above these other quarterbacks with his accuracy and ability to operate at a fast pace. However, fans didn't get to see Manning throw the deep balls much during the public sessions. Is that due to simply being cautious or is there an issue that fans have yet to be made aware of regarding Manning's abilities?
When Pro Football Talk, a leading NFL insider website, leads an article by insinuating that Manning isn't "dialing it up deep" yet, it might lead fans to think that Manning isn't capable of making those long throws yet. That just isn't the case. Of the dozens of passes I saw him throw last Thursday, I could say perhaps a handful were passes longer than 40 yards. They were accurate and they weren't wobbly.
No, he's not airing the ball out frequently. What I saw in practice was the first team offense working on many short-to-intermediate routes. Manning never seemed to struggle throwing those passes, but I felt that those drills were key to this offense functioning well once the games start. This is a new crop of young receivers that Manning is working with, and everyone needs to be on the same page with each other. Manning relies a great deal on potential audibles based upon what the defense gives him. He has to learn how his receivers work to get open and know where it's likely that a pass will succeed. The receivers need to understand when and where it's likely that they'll get the pass from Manning (which is new to these receivers; neither Orton nor Tebow would ever attempt these types of plays). That type of practice needs to be done over and over and in live situations.
That's what I saw at practice. In the past few years, I had never seen these type of live, one-on-one passing drills with a cornerback defending the receiver on the first day of training camp. This offense was ready to work on many plays which seemed to be a change from the past. Manning never shirked from throwing any of these passes, and when he did come to the line to throw he always wanted to throw against the best cornerback he could get (several times he called out for cornerback Champ Bailey to work against his receiver). While I was there, Manning zipped the ball in on target every single time.
The lack of deep ball throws is simply being cautious with a 36-year-old quarterback and something that would have happened even if he wasn't coming off of surgery. Manning's arm strength is not nearly the issue that most fans and analysts thought it was when he signed with the Broncos back in March. I can't tell you if it's 90% or 100%. No one will know that until live play starts against actual opponents and we see Manning fire a 30-yard pass down the middle for the first time. There's no need to potentially wear out an arm that is already having to throw so many passes just to get acquainted with his new receivers. Yes, the Broncos have Manning on a pitch count, but it's not much different than what the Indianapolis Colts started to do with him four years ago in an effort to prolong his career. If you want Manning to play until he's 40, you have to force him to rest. Throwing a ton of deep passes in practice would go against that philosophy and do nothing but wear his arm out before we've even reached Week 1.
Julie is a featured NFL contributor for the Yahoo Contributor Network. A Denver Broncos fan since moving to Colorado in 2001, she has attended training camp multiple times over the past three years.
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