– There was a bit of a hulabaloo about how Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and offensive coordinator Adam Gase might have broken a NFL rule by visiting Alabama together this month.ENGLEWOOD, Colo.
This is what gets attention when the NFL hits a slow time in the offseason. The Broncos' explanation is they were there separately and not working together, and even if something was amiss it's about as minor of a violation as you can get. Instead of getting caught up in that story, realize that coming off the greatest single season in NFL history, five-time MVP Manning flew across the country to pick Alabama coach Nick Saban's brain about how to get better.
"I certainly know the rules, but I know there’s no rule that says a player can’t get better—at least I haven’t read that one," Manning said, after explaining he and Gase didn't violate the rule that players and coaches can't work together during unauthorized times in the offseason.
It's no surprise that Manning said all the predictable things after the Broncos' first day of offseason conditioning about improving on his record-setting season ("I believe in this league you either get better or you get worse — you don’t stay the same," Manning said, repeating a well-used cliche), but he lives it.
When the Broncos came together on Monday, Manning and the offense didn't celebrate the 5,477 yards or 55 touchdowns he threw for last regular season, but studied the mistakes. He said they looked at the interceptions and the sacks, trying to figure out how to clean that up. Even on the highest-scoring offense in NFL history he was focused on fixing the errors, as few as there were.
"I think as soon as you say, ‘Well, hey, I don’t have to do that this year, I’ll just skip that part,’ that is cheating yourself, that is cheating the team and it means that you’re probably not going to be as good a quarterback as you need to be," Manning said.
It's great that Manning wants to improve, and there's little doubt he'll try his best, but is that realistic?
(Here's a good time for you, Internet Manning Critic, to go to the comments and bring up last season's Super Bowl. We'll wait. .... Yeah, eight points vs. Seattle, forgot that ... Can't win in the big game, that's fresh ... Just puts up stats, not a winner, got it ... Done? Good. On with the regularly scheduled post.)
Regression is a tough opponent. To improve upon last season, Manning would have to start from scratch and put together the best season in NFL history. Realistically, that isn't going to happen. Manning had a great season in 2012, and he had only 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns. That might be a more realistic projection for 2014. The bar from 2013 is incredibly high and it's probably best to bet on Manning never reaching it again, or anyone else reaching it for a long time either. That was a nearly perfect regular season, offensively speaking.
"You certainly realize that there were a lot of positive things that occurred last year.," Manning said. "A lot of guys that played really well, that played at a high, high level. It was a fun ride to be a part of.
"You’re trying to keep that edge and at the same time, there is no question there are a lot of positive things — how can we duplicate those and be even better if possible?"
The thing is, personnel wise, the Broncos shouldn't be any worse on offense. They might even be better.
Even if you think Emmanuel Sanders is a downgrade from Eric Decker (we'll see), and the offense will miss Knowshon Moreno (if Montee Ball has learned pass protection, they won't), don't forget that the Broncos are getting All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady back from a season-ending foot injury. He played in just two games last year. That's a major addition to the greatest offense in NFL history.
Breaking their own records isn't the goal anyway. Manning isn't putting in the time this offseason to throw for 56 touchdowns in the regular season. Denver has been the No. 1 seed in the AFC the last two years but hasn't won a Super Bowl. The Broncos memorably were destroyed by the Seahawks In the Super Bowl last season.
Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware signed with the Broncos a little more than a month ago. He joked about getting lost coming into the facility on Monday. But he has already seen that Manning is not trying to replicate last season, but putting in the work to make sure this season ends with a different result.
"Sometimes it doesn’t matter about accolades, it doesn’t matter if you were MVP or not, it’s what can I do to really get better for next season?" Ware said. "Peyton’s one of those types of guys that puts in that effort, not just on the field but off the field, trying to figure out, ‘What can I do to get better?’ Because he has a bad taste in his mouth from the last season and he doesn’t want it to happen again."
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