ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Peyton Manning knows that at age 37, he’s long in tooth and short on time, at least by NFL standards. Yet, the annual influx of 22-year-olds who are ever-stronger, ever-fitter and ever-faster have him feeling like a youngster himself.
They keep him on his toes, spry in body, mind and spirit.
So do the athletic trainers and the strength staff who monitor his never-ending rehab, the new offensive coordinator who’s barking into his ear on game day, the new position coach and his new slot receiver extraordinaire, Wes Welker.
“Yeah, certainly I’m still learning,” Manning told The Associated Press in an interview after practice Tuesday. “You still learn when you have a new offensive coordinator in Adam Gase, a new quarterbacks coach in Greg Knapp, who’s been around football for a while and I’m learning some of his coaching philosophies. Any time you’re constantly learning, I think that does make you feel young. That makes you feel like all the other players.
“Sometimes when you have a little variety, that does keep things kind of fresh and keeps you stimulated. But football, it doesn’t really matter how old you are or how young you are, you’re all fighting for the same goal. And so, I love practicing every day. I love being out there with the guys, I love hanging out in the locker room when you have a free minute and having some laughs but working in the weight room. So, I feel very much like one of the guys.”
And he plays very much like he always has.
Manning had a terrific comeback last season and he looks even better this summer. No less an expert than Hall of Famer John Elway, who just happens to be his boss, said the ball is coming off Manning’s hand much better than it ever did last season, when the four-time MVP won Comeback Player of the Year after rebounding from a series of neck injuries and surgeries that affected a nerve that runs into his right triceps.
Manning set Broncos single-season records in nearly every major passing category in 2012, including completions (400), completion percentage (68.6), yards passing (4,659), TD passes (37), QB rating (105.8) and 300-yard games (nine) after missing his final season in Indianapolis in 2011.
Yet after leading Denver to an AFC-best 13-3 record, the Broncos’ 11-game winning streak came crashing to a halt with a 38-35 loss to eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore on a frigid January afternoon in the Rocky Mountains.
The Ravens and Broncos kick off the 2013 season in Denver on Sept. 5, and in a twist, it’s the Broncos who have been getting all the love as the trendy Super Bowl pick this season, not the defending champions who actually got to hoist the Lombardi Trophy back in February.
On the first day of training camp, Manning said, “We still kind of have a scar from losing that playoff game and I think players need to kind of be reminded of that daily, use that to drive them, to fuel them to make us a better team.”
Manning said Tuesday that he doesn’t think any of his teammates have put that loss in their rearview but instead have kept it on their dashboard, where they can see it every day and never forget the pain of coming up short.
“You’d better have a drive. You’d better have a goal for every season, a hunger, whatever you want to call it, a thirst, a little fire in your belly, so I think certainly our team’s had that and it’s about trying to go a little farther, trying to finish,” Manning said. “I think guys have worked hard all offseason.”
Of course, some newcomers like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or Montee Ball weren’t here for that devastating defeat.
“Every player can have a different motivation,” Manning said. “I’m sure some guys have had, they’d be lying if they told you they weren’t fighting to win but also fighting to get a new contract or I know Brandon Stokley last year wanted his son to see him, his son was old enough to see him score a touchdown. So, there are different motivations. And it doesn’t really matter what it is as long as a player’s doing everything he can to do his job.”
The other day, Elway said he hopes Manning plays into his 40s. As fit as he is, that certainly seems possible right now, but Manning isn’t thinking beyond 2013, saying he’s “all-in” for this season and isn’t even thinking about anything beyond that.
That’s no different than any other year, really.
“Things happen. It’s just the way football is in today’s world. With free agency, with injuries, with the parity in the league, it’s hard to think too far past the current year,” Manning said. “I think the players that are on the 2013 team are going to be different than the players that are on the 2014 team and the 2012, so you’d better be doing everything you can to be the best for this team.”
Notes: With RT Orlando Franklin (hip) sitting out Tuesday, the Broncos shuffled their O-line again. It looked like this: LT Zane Beadles, LG Ryan Lilja, C Manny Ramirez, RG Louis Vasquez and RT Chris Clark. Manning took the optimist’s view, saying the Broncos’ injury epidemic along the O-line has allowed the backups to get plenty of work, “so I think the more prepared we are, the better we will be long-term during the season.” … Denver signed TE Deangelo Peterson, of LSU, who spent last season on Washington’s practice squad.
- By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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