ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Assistant coach Eric Studesville walked into the running backs room at the Denver Broncos’ headquarters when the Super Bowl champs reported for their offseason program, scribbled the number 18 on the grease board and circled it.
“We’re going to go at that pace. And we’re going to pay attention to detail like that,” running back C.J. Anderson recalled his position coach declaring on that day back in April.
“If we do it like 18,” he said, “we’re doing it the right way.”
Even with Peyton Manning retired, the Broncos insist his legacy lives on at 13655 Broncos Parkway.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Baltimore is not trying to do things like Ray Lewis up there, and when Tom Brady decides to leave New England people won’t try to do it like that,” Anderson said. “When you find someone who’s been doing it at a high level for that long, it’s hard to say: ‘OK, Peyton’s not here. Now we can relax.’ It’s already been ingrained and embedded in us. We’re wired to strive to be perfect. And if we’re not perfect, we have to do it again until we get it right.”
Manning was Denver’s de facto drill sergeant over the last four seasons, and as they begin the post-Peyton era, the Broncos say they’re just as fastidious in his wake as they were in his presence.
“I don’t think there’ll be any fall-off because we are progeny of Peyton,” suggested tight end Virgil Green. “We have guys who worked with Peyton and that’s the only way we know how to work, that’s the only way we know how to do things. Being around Peyton, just being accountable, he taught me a lot about what it means to be a true professional. And a lot of guys here have that same mindset. We learned from the best guy to ever do it.”
Like fellow sports icons Michael Jordan and Nolan Ryan, Manning, who retired a month after Denver’s 24-10 Super Bowl win over Carolina, demanded excellence and unparalleled preparation not only of himself but also from his teammates and coaches.
Loathe to cross him, colleagues and coaches devoured the playbook like college kids pulling all-nighters before finals, certain that Manning would quiz them about this nuance or that, or demand to know the reasoning behind calls and formations.
They had to be on time, on point and on top of their game lest they fall from his favor.
With Manning hitting the links now instead of eluding linebackers, cornerback Bradley Roby said the Broncos have to guard against collectively exhaling and losing a little bit of that razor-sharp edge that helped them reach the Super Bowl two of the last three seasons.
“Definitely, because I think Peyton demanded that, just being around him and his perfection and his aura. He’s a legend, one of the greatest ever. So, when everyone in the room realizes one of the greatest ever is in here right now, everyone acts different. It’s just an irreplaceable presence that’s hard to replicate,” Roby said.
That said, Roby pointed to the seven games Manning missed last season when then-backup Brock Osweiler was the starter, and attention to detail never slipped.
“There is a danger, but I think coach Gary Kubiak, he demands perfection and excellence himself,” Roby said. “Because even when Peyton wasn’t around, we were still on the same level, so I don’t think it’ll be a problem.”
Several veterans suggested the “Manning Effect” is as strong today as it was when Manning was hollering all those “Omahas” from the line of scrimmage.
“Peyton was always a big part of this,” GM John Elway declared after Manning’s retirement.
“It definitely helped me out going against him every day, knowing you can’t have an off day. But I still can’t have those off days,” cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “I’m still going against Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders every day. So, I’ve still got to bring my A game.”
Sanders said the same goes for the offense.
“I think Peyton showed us the blueprint,” Sanders said. “I think once someone shows you the blueprint, then it’s instilled in you.”
Kubiak said he’s seen no signs of his team letting up with Manning gone but not forgotten.
“If anything, I think I’ve seen it carry over,” Kubiak said. “I’m watching guys that are more vocal because he’s not here. I think those guys had the privilege of being around the best for so long from that standpoint, and I think you can see it.”
Well, there is one thing that Manning took with him into retirement, Anderson said.
His famous fuse.
“The only thing we’re not doing is yelling at people like he used to,” Anderson said with a hearty laugh. “We don’t want to get on to people like he used to. But we’re just easing guys into it and letting them know: ‘Hey, this is how we do things and you’re going to jump aboard right now because we’re not waiting for you.'”
By Arnie Stapleton, AP
(© Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)