On Friday afternoon at Duke University, Peyton Manning got one step closer (or perhaps quite a few steps closer) to his ultimate destination. Manning welcomed all the key players from the Denver Broncos front office, including VP of Operations John Elway, head coach John Fox and general manager Brian Xanders, to a workout in which he threw about 65 passes in a controlled indoor environment.
After the workout, Elway (perhaps the most social media-friendly football exec this side of Jim Irsay) posted an update for fans on his Twitter account:
Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who was Manning's offensive coordinator at Tennessee, had nothing but good to say about his longtime friend's development.
"It's incredible how much progress he's made in throwing the football," Cutcliffe told the Tennessean newspaper. "He's gotten his arm strength back and his accuracy is there. I'm not an NFL coach, of course, but I think I know what it takes to complete passes in the NFL, and it's clear that Peyton can make all those throws. From what I've seen, he's right on target for [a return to the NFL in 2012]. Everybody knows what a hard worker he is, and he's dedicated himself to getting ready for the season."
Since the workout was private, the NFL Network turned to expert analyst Mike Mayock to get a sense of what teams look to see in these types of auditions.
"If I'm the Denver Broncos and I'm going to put a significant financial investment into Peyton Manning, what I'd want to see is pretty much what I usually see at the college workouts for the top-level college players," Mayock said on Friday. "At a pro day you're going to see 60-70 throws — three-step, five, five with a hitch, seven, seven with a hitch and play-action. We all know Peyton has made all of those throws in his heyday, but the important thing to me is that when we got to throws 55-70 — in other words, when he's had a pretty good workout, I want to see if he still has the same arm strength that he did in the first 20 throws.
"Can he throw an 18-yard comeback far hash on the 65th throw? Can he throw a go route 60 yards on the 70th throw? I've talked to some people that have seen him throw the football live and everybody has been highly impressed with what he's been able to do. My only question is, does he have the arm strength, the muscle strength and the ability to drive it when he's tired? If he had all of those things, I'd feel pretty comfortable."
So far, so good. Mayock also opined that if the Broncos do win the rights to Manning's services, that should not be the end of their offseason acquisitions.
"If I get Peyton Manning and it's a healthy Peyton Manning, I'm thinking Super Bowl," he said. "From my perspective, the first thing I would do is I would try to make Mike Wallace from the Pittsburgh Steelers a very wealthy young man. He's a restricted free agent so I would have to give up my first-round pick, but my first-round pick is only No. 25. I would be happy to give up No. 25 and then I would get after Mike Wallace, try to put together a deal with him.
"After that, remember that [tight end] Dallas Clark — Peyton's old teammate — is out there as a free agent; it wouldn't cost me anything. I would be trying to augment my offensive firepower because Peyton is used to dealing with an average defense; Denver's defense is fine. I'd be really just getting everybody I could get on the offensive side of the ball and say, 'OK Peyton, it's up to you to win a Super Bowl. Let's go.'"
However, the derby is not yet done. Manning will also work out for the Tennessee Titans before this comes to a close, and we now know that the San Francisco 49ers are very much in the picture -- head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman watched Manning throw at Duke on Tuesday, and all in attendance were impressed.