ENGLEWOOD, Colo.—The Denver Broncos kicked off Phase One of their offseason schedule on April 13th with a series of team workouts that ended on April 23rd. In those organized team activities, the players were restricted to strength and conditioning, or any rehab—mostly weights and training room stuff.
Today, the team reconvened for their first mini-camp of the 2015 offseason, and were finally allowed on the grid-iron, with their teammates and coaches. 39-year-old quarterback Peyton Manning, a five-time league MVP, couldn’t be happier.
”The whole team, including me, is excited to get back on the field,” Manning said today from Dove Valley. “We’ve been here for a couple weeks and have been lifting and meeting, but it’s always nice to get back on the football field. First time we’ve been allowed to be out here with a ball and have had a normal football feel to it. I’m ready to get back out. I’m looking forward to getting back out this afternoon. This will be good work this week with this mini camp. Obviously it’s an exciting time this weekend with the draft and seeing what new players we’re going to add to our team.”
The opening round of the NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday night and MHH will be bringing you live updates and reports on the Broncos goings-on. The Broncos hold the No. 28 pick in the first round. It’ll be interesting to see which direction General Manager John Elway decides to go with the selection. Today, Manning jokingly poked fun at all of the mock drafts that inundate the interwebs.
“I might turn it on about the time we pick,” he said. “Whatever time that will be. They haven’t been promoting it very much up until this point (laughing), so I feel like I’ve already watched it to tell you the truth. I’ve seen every mock draft, and of course Mel [Kiper] and Todd [McShay], they’re always 100 percent right. I probably don’t even have to watch. I know where everybody is going already.”
Manning, ever the joker, is telling fans and media to pump the brakes on how he and Head Coach Gary Kubiak are getting along, as they mesh their two offensive philosophies together. Always a buttoned-down individual, Manning doesn’t want to let the cat out of the bag and give the opposition any advantage over the Broncos.
“Like I said, we’re just starting,” he said. “I think what we’ll do, ideally would be to try and keep it in-house and not broadcast to all of our opponents. Like I said, I always enjoy this time as you try to form the kind of the identity of your offense and see what things players do well. We have some new players and I’m trying to get on the same page as those guys. We’ll get a lot of new players this weekend. I’m enjoying the process.”
Traditionally, Kubiak’s offense is one replete with bootlegs and rollouts—an element that some might think requires the quarterback to be fleet of foot—a misconception. Manning has full confidence in himself.
“I like to think I’m pretty versatile, believe it or not,” he said. “I feel like I can execute whatever plays the coach calls. I feel the different offenses I’ve been in that I’ve executed the plays that the coordinator has called. I feel like I can do that. I feel good. We’ve been working hard up until now.”
Manning famously reworked his contract, not long before the deadline this past March, accepting a $4M pay-cut up front. He can earn the money back by leading the Broncos to a Super Bowl victory. He’s just happy that the business side of football is in his rearview and he can focus on the game now.
“It’s good to get all of that behind you,” he said. “Like I said, today is really kind of the first day that you can start talking about now and start talking about football as far as this season. You don’t have to talk about what’s happened in the past.”
However, Manning is still under contract through 2016 and bristles at the notion that 2015 will be his swan song. For those in the media who are certain that this is Manning’s final year in orange and blue, the Sheriff might beg to differ. A farewell tour?
“I wouldn’t call it that,” he said. “That’s not how I see it.”
Of course, the longevity of his career is likely dependent on his health. Last season, he literally limped into the playoffs, as he nursed a nagging injury to his quadriceps. If he can stay healthy, we could see Manning around for a while. Today, he confirmed that his 39-year-old body is holding up and feeling good.
“I feel pretty good,” he said. “I was able to have really good workouts during the time when you’re allowed to come back with all of these [CBA] rules. I had a good start to the offseason program—the two weeks with [Strength and Conditioning Coach] Luke Richesson. I felt pretty good out there today. I’m encouraged by that.”
At the NFL Scouting Combine, John Elway talked about how Manning would fit within Kubiak’s offense—a system Elway is intimately acquainted with, having won back-to-back Super Bowls employing it in his late 30s. Elway even said that he thinks Kubiak’s scheme is the perfect system for an aging signal caller. If Manning sees it that way, he’s keeping his cards close to the vest.
“Like I said, we’re just starting,” he said. “We didn’t wear helmets today. This was full speed at times and kind of a jog thru at times. We are going through the process. I like being out there. I like working. I like learning. I’ve always enjoyed that part of it. I’m looking forward to learning Coach Kubiak’s philosophies and trying to do my part as a quarterback. I’m looking forward to the process.”
One of the Broncos key players—and Manning’s No. 1 target Demaryius Thomas—has chosen to holdout of Phase One thus far, as he negotiates the terms of what he hopes will become a long-term contract. The Broncos applied the Exclusive Rights Franchise Tag to Thomas, guaranteeing him $12.823M for one year. Manning understands that this is a business and is pulling for the guy he’s helped mold into a three-time Pro Bowler.
“Certainly you always like for everybody to be here during this time,” he said. “‘D.T.’ has got a personal issue. I want it to work out the best for him. He’s my friend. He’s my teammate, but he’s my friend as well. This is the business side of it that comes into play. I’m pulling for it to work out best for him. Certainly you always like for everybody to be here and hopefully that will be soon.”
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One of Broncos Country’s biggest concerns is that Thomas’ absence will hold him back in terms of learning and assimilating to Kubiak’s new offense. Manning doesn’t sound too concerned about it.
“I’m probably the wrong guy to ask,” he said. “You’d probably have to ask someone else that. I’ve got a positive outlook on it, and hopefully he’ll be here soon. Like I said, I want the best for him.”
The precedent for 39-year-old quarterbacks having championship-caliber success in the annals of NFL history are non-existent. John Elway is the closest example, but he was a year younger than Manning is now when he walked away with two Super Bowl rings. Although he’s a student of history, Manning hasn’t wasted any time reflecting on the topic.
"I think you can’t lump them all into the same category,” he said. “I think there are young 39s and old 39s. I’m in that young group, for sure. March birthday. I think you have to be very careful just lumping them all in together. Who is there? Vinny [Testaverde], Warren [Moon], Daryle Lamonica, right? I have no idea. I just know some guys that have played a long time. I think it’s all about trying to do your job no matter how old you are. Whether you are a 22-year-old rookie coming in or not, I guess I have to answer questions about it, but I’m not interested in talking about how old I am much more after this point.”
Wait, did Manning confuse Daryle Lamonica with George Blanda?
“That’s who I was saying. Not Daryle Lamonica. Blanda, he took up kicking and played until he was in his 40s. I like [K] Connor [Barth]. I think Connor did a good job last year.”
The Broncos have high hopes for second-year wide receiver Cody Latimer in 2015. With the departure of tight end Julius Thomas and Wes Welker, there will likely be more balls to go around for Latimer. Today, Manning was asked about what kind of growth he’s seen out of Latimer, since entering the league in 2014.
“I really enjoyed the work—we went to Duke again—and Cody was there,” he said. “I thought I saw a little change in him in just those four months since I had seen him. I could tell that he’d been working on his own. He’s in good shape. Obviously he’s excited for this opportunity. He knows that he’s got a chance to play a big role on this team. I’m excited for him. He’s got a great attitude. Like all of us, we’re all trying to make an impression on this new coaching staff. I’m trying to do that. Certainly for a young receiver, it’s a great opportunity for him. He didn’t get a chance to play a lot last year, so I’m pulling for him. I think he can make an impact on this team this year.”
Manning recently made the news with his $3M donation to his alma mater—the University of Tennessee. When asked how this altruistic move might impact the University, Manning talked about his love for the Volunteers.
“I love the University of Tennessee,” he said. “I always have since I chose to go to school there back in 1994. The whole university, not just the football program. [I wanted] to add some funds to our scholarship program, which benefits not just the sports program. Trying to recruit some top students from around the country to come our university. I believe in the direction our football program is going in as well. I like [Head] Coach [Butch] Jones. I think he can continue to get Tennessee back to kind of where a lot of our fans [expect it], and we’ve got a couple guys in our locker room—[DE] Malik [Jackson] and [P Britton] Colquitt—who would like to see get it back to a high level as well. I’ve been proud to be associated with the university for almost 21 years now.”
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