ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The Denver Broncos broke camp Friday and Peyton Manning’s excitement was muted.
The four-time MVP thought he’d be able to practice out of sight now that seemingly every step — and throw — of his comeback has been described, dissected and discussed over the last 3 1/2 weeks.
No such luck.
The media are allowed to watch practice for two more weeks before the regular season rules kick in, with all but the first few minutes off-limits.
“So, the analysis of practices will continue, and I’ll look forward to that,” Manning cracked.
How Manning’s well-chronicled comeback goes is one of the biggest story lines in the NFL this season. That, along with how the Saints confront their bounty suspensions and how Tim Tebow, Manning’s predecessor in Denver, handles the Big Apple.
Manning became the most prized free agent in NFL history when the Indianapolis Colts released him in March after nerve issue weakened his throwing arm and required neck fusion surgery in September, forcing him to miss all of last season.
After a cameo appearance at Chicago last week, Manning makes his home debut Saturday night against the Seattle Seahawks at Sports Authority Field, where more than 41,000 fans watched a scrimmage two weeks ago.
Manning figures to play about three series.
He hasn’t lobbied coach John Fox or offensive coordinator Mike McCoy for more playing time in the preseason because of his recovery or rehab.
“It’s whatever Fox and Coach McCoy want to do,” Manning said. “Those guys are watching practice every day, they’re watching the film, they’re making evaluations as far as how much each guy needs to play. So, I really leave that to them. When I’m in there, it’s really important to try to do my job and get our offense down the field.”
After the Bears game, Manning said he reflected on how far he’d come to get back on the football field, but also on how far he has to go with his new offense.
It’s hard to gauge the starters on a single series. Once the regular season rolls around, it’s a four-quarter evaluation and that opening drive is more about deciphering defenses, testing targets, setting the tone.
In the preseason, there’s a pressure for immediate results, especially when the starters only play one series.
Manning said that’s still going to be the case Saturday night when the Broncos (No. 10 in the AP Pro32) host the Seahawks (No. 22).
“Yeah, I don’t know if it’ll be a half. But it’s still not a whole game, so I still think that it is a little bit more pressure that you’re only in there for a certain amount of plays and you want them all to go well,” Manning said. “So, you still have that feeling a little bit that you’re in there, you’ve got to have a sense of urgency, you want to do your job well and hopefully we can get a few more situations against Seattle and it’ll be a good test going against their defense.”
Manning will get the bulk of his preseason preparation against San Francisco next week, when he’ll play into the third quarter.
Manning didn’t come close to getting hit by Bears defenders while facing a pass rush for the first time in 579 days. So, the biggest question mark still hanging over him is whether he can take a hit and bounce back up.
“It’s not hanging over me,” Manning retorted. “It seems to be a hot topic. I had a lady the other day who told me, `Everybody can’t wait to see you get hit.’ Thank you. … I have played football for a long time and when it happens, I plan on getting up and hopefully completing a pass on the next play and moving the chains and at some point hopefully you all can stop asking me that question.”
Like his rehab, the scrutiny figures to last all season.
That’s why he was hoping to catch a break with the Broncos breaking camp.
“I thought (the end) of training camp means that you all weren’t allowed to come out to practice but I hear that continues for two weeks, so I have kind of controlled excitement here,” Manning told reporters.
The rules state that for the remainder of the preseason, teams either open up their practices or their locker rooms.
“I would have chosen the locker room,” Manning said.
The problem is there’s 90 players crammed in there already, and some days it seems there’s that many members of the media, too.
Notes: Rookie RB Ronnie Hillman returned Friday from a pulled right hamstring that he’d aggravated earlier in the week, but Fox said he would be game-time decision, same as CB Tracy Porter (illness). Asked if he liked what he saw out of Hillman, a speedster from San Diego State who will serve as a change-of-pace back to bruising starter Willis McGahee, Fox said, “I’ve liked him. Every time he’s been out there, he’s flashed.”
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)