ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Zip.
Everyone around Peyton Manning, including the quarterback himself, says he has more of it this year.
He’s running a faster offense with Adam Gase in charge. He’s getting the ball into his receivers’ hands quicker. And his passes, especially according to those red-handed receivers on the other end, definitely have more oomph.
As he enters his second season in Denver, Manning is another year removed from the neck problems that plagued him in 2011 and he’s much more comfortable in his surroundings, even if he still gets lost driving around town.
“We worked out at Duke in March or April and I definitely felt like he had more zip on the ball,” receiver Eric Decker said. “I think he’s come back stronger.”
Manning wasn’t exactly a 98-pound weakling in 2012.
He did, after all, throw for 4,600 yards and 37 touchdowns to go with just 11 interceptions, and he was well on his way to a fifth MVP award before Adrian Peterson kicked it into high gear over the final month of the season.
But his passes leave a little bit more sting this spring.
“Last year – we’ve talked about it a lot – but he was going through a lot,” tight end Jacob Tamme said. “Not only a new team, but just with his body and his rehab. He’s still working on that. But you can tell he feels a little bit better.”
The Broncos have added bulk to their line in 335-pound guard Louis Vasquez and beef to their backfield in 217-pound bruiser Montee Ball at running back. But Manning, too, is hardier than he was a year ago when he was shaking off the rust from missing his final season in Indianapolis with a neck problem that weakened his throwing arm.
Manning is known as a monster in the weight room, and he took that attitude into his rehab last year and that approach into his offseason this year.
“With the program that we’ve got, it’s unbelievable the amount of muscle mass and endurance that guys have and the cut-down of injuries that we had last year,” Decker said. “I think that’s a compliment to the strength and conditioning staff here and I think Peyton is one of those that took advantage of it and really got himself in good shape and is stronger and healthier this year.”
It’s been noticeable on the football field during the team’s 10 days of OTAs.
“He appears to be way more comfortable,” coach John Fox said. “His arm appears to be a little stronger, more zip. That could be just understanding his receivers better and spitting the ball out quicker. So, I think just overall familiarity with what we’re doing.”
Manning’s top target last season was Demaryius Thomas, who caught 94 passes for 1,434 yards – while they were still learning about each other. Thomas said he has more of a rapport with his quarterback this year.
“It’s sky-high right now,” Thomas said. “I know what he wants. I know where to be on the field. I feel like the more we’re on the field, the better I get.”
Manning is reticent when it comes to talking about his health and is loath to compare one year to another. Still, he acknowledged this week that he is throwing the ball harder than he was this time a year ago.
“I think that I’ve made some progress definitely since last year at this time. I think also some since last season,” he said. “I think oftentimes when you know more about the receiver that you’re throwing to, you have more repetitions with each guy, I think that usually allows for hopefully more accuracy and more confident throws, if you will.”
Manning feels like himself again.
“Well, certainly the second year, even though we have some changes in our offense, I have a better feel for the receivers that I’m throwing to, of the offense,” he said.
Wes Welker has been thrown into the mix, Gase was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator and has installed a more up-tempo attitude and Greg Knapp came on board as Manning’s new position coach.
“So, we are learning a new offense but at the same time, there is enough familiarity from last year that does make every player feel more confident,” Manning said. “And, when you know what you’re doing, you play faster. Receivers can run faster routes, I think quarterbacks and running backs have a better idea of what they’re doing and you can go out there and play without having to think as much.
“Any time you can take the thinking out of football, that’s a good thing. That’d be true for me and for a lot of players this year in really the second year of kind of this new system.”
That comfort level shouldn’t be confused with complacency, though. He’s as driven as ever, especially after losing to Baltimore in January after entering the playoffs as the AFC’s top seed.
“Comfort is a word he doesn’t like and that we don’t like to use a lot around here because we don’t want to be complacent, we don’t want to be feeling good about ourselves,” Tamme said. “We haven’t really done anything. And we’re working right now to see what we can do this year. I think there’s a good comfort as far as knowing everybody and being around the guys. But there’s also that hunger and that edge that’s always there.”
– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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