ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Peyton Manning is the only four-time MVP in NFL history, he’s hoisted a Super Bowl trophy and hosted “Saturday Night Live.”
Yet, he’s never faced scrutiny quite like this.
“I’ve never had to comment before on incompletions in practice, so this is new to me,” the Denver Broncos quarterback said with a chuckle when peppered with questions about some errant deep throws Monday.
“I will say that when you are throwing deep balls, the idea is to take your shot. It’s not the highest percentage play but we’re going to keep throwing them,” Manning said. “As they always say, in a game if you throw five deep balls and you complete one of them, that’s actually a great thing. I mean, you’re taking a shot and trying to send a message to the defense to hopefully back them off.”
Coach John Fox also had some fun with the media’s steely-eyed focus on the Manning’s timing with his receivers on deeper routes.
“You guys obviously pay a little more attention to that than I do, but I think our passing game is way further along than it was this time a year ago, obviously, because we weren’t even here,” Fox said. “Again, we’re not keeping stats now, we’re just installing and getting guys a comfort level.”
The key right now with Manning isn’t so much his accuracy down the field but his arm strength as he continues to rehab from a nerve injury that caused weakness in his throwing arm, forced him to sit out last season and led to his release from the Indianapolis Colts.
And Manning showed excellent zing and zip Monday as the Broncos began four more days of voluntary offseason workouts, otherwise known as organized team activities, or OTAs.
“I think he’s doing tremendous,” Fox said. “Physically, he looks the same to me as he’s always looked. Like any new player out here, it’s a new language and he’s making adjustments to that just like everybody else. We’re hoping they get better every day.”
In the two previous practices that the media were allowed to watch, Manning looked good on short and intermediate passes but sometimes lacked oomph on the occasional deep ball.
Not this time.
If anything, some of his tosses were too strong, sailing past his receiver’s outstretched arms. In the two-minute drill that capped the workout, he hit a sliding Brandon Stokley with a sensational 40-yard throw, then faked the spike and found Eric Decker alone in the corner for the 5-yard TD.
Manning said he’s still searching for a comfort zone and that his recovery is an ongoing process.
“That’s the good thing about these OTAs is you really see kind of where you are on certain plays,” Manning said. “Because you are making different types of throws and so you’re learning a lot and you can know what to continue to work on even harder in your rehab. And you know, some things you may just not quite be ready for yet.”
Manning would prefer to take each and every snap at practice but he’s had to let the other QBs take plenty of snaps as he and head athletic trainer Steve “Greek” Antonopulos have worked out “pitch counts,” which Manning expects he’ll adhere to for several more months.
“I think that will play a role throughout the entire season,” he said.
Manning seems to be settling in nicely with the new terminology and playbook after 14 years in Indy.
“The tough thing right now is we’re installing new plays, so we’re running each play one time, whereas what you really want to do is run one play 10 times versus every type of defense where you truly master that play,” Manning said. “And so, that’s, you know, sort of the growing pains that you go through because you don’t have the exact feel for a new play that we’re putting in. …
“I think as minicamp comes up next week, we’ll be able to start repeating some of those plays and then certainly in training camp, the install should be in and you should be repeating those plays from Day 1 and getting more and more comfortable each time.”
Monday was Manning’s chance to show the Broncos and himself just how strong his arm has gotten by taking a series of shots down the field against the likes of veteran cornerbacks Champ Bailey, Tracy Porter and Drayton Florence.
“We get great looks vs. our defense, you get great coverage. So, that’s something that the more work you get, the better you’re going to be,” Manning said. “I keep going back to, it’s going to be hard to get a more challenging look than going against some of the guys in our secondary, which is only going to make us better.”
And this star-studded secondary would be hard-pressed to find a better test than it has in Manning.
“I think it goes both ways,” said Bailey, who picked off one of Manning’s shorter passes Monday. “I don’t think he’s had a secondary — at least on the corner — that’s been this good. It gives him a good look. We’ve never seen a quarterback like that around here. That speaks for itself.”
Manning was particularly impressive in the 2-minute drill, looking every bit like the quarterback who used to pick apart defenses in the hurry-up offense all those years in Indianapolis.
“Well, it’s tough, because that’s his thing,” Bailey said. “He’s a quick guy; he knows what he wants to do. When he makes his mind up, the decision’s made, and you’ve got to be in the right places, and that’s tough on the defense.”