Eric Bakke/Denver Broncos
Eric Bakke/Denver Broncos
ENGLEWOOD – Peyton Manning is back in his element, barking out calls, throwing passes and working out with his new teammates. It sure beats watching, wondering and worrying.
He’s still finding his comfort zone in Denver after spending 14 seasons in Indianapolis, but Manning is back serving as both quarterback and coach on the football field instead of pacing the sideline and wondering when his neck is going to allow him to return to the huddle.
Manning and his new teammates reported to the Broncos’ headquarters Monday morning for the start of the team’s offseason conditioning program. After some work in the classroom and weight room, Manning threw passes to his new receivers during some on-field work without the coaches, who aren’t allowed to join them outdoors until OTAs start up in May.
“Everybody’s been looking forward to this day for some time now,” Manning said. “I thought it was a productive first day, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
He didn’t want to make any rash judgments about his receiving corps and although he said he was pleased with his first official workout since signing a five-year, $96 million deal with Denver on March 20, Manning declined to talk about his health or the progress he’s made as he regains his arm strength following a series of neck operations that sidelined him for all of last season and led to his departure from Indy.
“I’m not going to get into these weekly reports. I’ve kind of been there and done that all fall of last year,” said Manning, who is rehabbing under the direction of head athletic trainer Steve “Greek” Antonopulos and new strength and conditioning coach Luke Richesson.
“I’m enjoying being under one roof, being supervised by those two guys,” Manning said.
Wide receiver Eric Decker, who has caught more passes from Manning than anyone else over the last month thanks to a series of workouts at local high schools, said the four-time MVP’s passes were precise and powerful.
“I’m not his doctor, I don’t know how to speak on his health, but catching balls from him, it looks like there’s nothing wrong to me,” Decker said. “He’s throwing great balls; he’s getting the work in just like we’re getting the work in, knocking the rust off. I see no issues at this point.”
Although he’s been putting in a lot of miles finding remote high school fields to practice on, Manning said he hasn’t really gotten to know his new city yet.
“It’s been all business,” he said. “Everybody’s asking where I’m living. I’ve been living over here in the facility.”
Rehabbing, lifting weights and studying his new playbook.
Manning said he was glad to throw the ball around at team headquarters rather than sneaking around to the local high school fields to play catch with Decker and good friend Brandon Stokley, who signed a one-year deal to return to the Broncos on Monday.
Manning, 36, has always embraced the offseason regimen, and he said he’s sure he wasn’t the only one who was relieved Monday when NFL teams opened their doors for the voluntary offseason conditioning programs that were scuttled last year by the league’s lockout.
“I am (excited), there’s no question. I think a lot of players around the NFL will tell you the lockout threw a lot of players off their routine and what they’re used to,” Manning said. “So, I (like) the fact that everybody’s allowed to be in the facility now working out under one roof; we can throw on the field now, right next to the weight room now as opposed to going to a high school. That was what you had to do, but it’s nice to be able to do everything here and have some time with the coaches, as well.”
Because the coaches can’t join them on the practice fields until next month, the players run the on-field portion of the program themselves, and this arrangement is suited perfectly for Manning, who will direct the installation of the Broncos’ new no-huddle offense.
Manning, though, said he felt like the new kid in school.
“I think a number of us did. I was with Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen, Caleb (Hanie), the same way. We have some new guys. So, I’m learning as we go, as well,” Manning said. “Certainly when you get out there on the field and you’re throwing passes to receivers, you feel a little more comfortable there, as far as knowing what you’re doing a little bit.”
Decker said Manning is making everyone around him better because of his famous work ethic, and cornerback Champ Bailey said that goes for Denver’s defense, too.
Bailey sent Manning numerous texts during the quarterback’s whirlwind free agency tour pleading with him to come to Denver.
“Why? Because he’s an amazing player, and his leadership alone is bar none the best in the league,” Bailey said. “You need a guy like that on your team, and where I want to go, what I want to do toward the end of my career is win a championship, and I feel like he gives us the best chance.”
Bailey said he puts Manning at the top of the QB list because of the “way he breaks down a defense and pretty much tell you what you’re in, and half the guys on defense don’t even know what we’re doing. It’s sad but true. You try to trick him as much as possible, but for some reason, somebody always tips him, and he knows; he just knows.”
Bailey said the Broncos have to be careful they don’t take Manning’s presence for granted.
“I tell everybody in our defensive room, ‘Just because we have a guy like that, it’s not going to get easier for us.’ We’ve got to work harder because the expectations are here,” Bailey said, holding his right hand high. “He’s going to kick our butts in practice, so we’ve got to be ready to go.”