Almost a month after the Broncos announced the signing of Peyton Manning, the club’s brass is thrilled with the leadership role their new quarterback has assumed at Dove Valley.
Facing unprecedented restrictions in the new collective bargaining agreement on coaches working with players on the practice field, Manning immediately went to work organizing informal workouts with other members of the offense. When the rules prohibited them from working on the fields at Dove Valley, they scouted out high school fields they could use. As a result, he’s already had nearly a month of work with center J.D. Walton and receiver Eric Decker, among others.
“As a person, he’s everything that we thought he was,” Broncos executive vice president John Elway said Tuesday on the Dave Logan Show.
“As a football player, he’s a guy that is obviously a great leader and has taken control of that. Especially with the new offseason workout rules, with the coaches not being able to be on the field, we need a guy that takes control and Peyton’s done that Day 1. So he’s everything when it comes to the leadership side that we thought he was.”
Although neither Manning nor the Broncos are providing detailed updates on his progress rehabilitating from the multiple neck surgeries that forced him to miss all of last season, Elway confirmed the reports of other players that Manning is progressing well.
“He continues to improve and he’s out there throwing every day, so we couldn’t be happier,” he said. “I think the excitement in the building is extremely good and we’re looking forward to getting going. We’re looking forward to the draft and being able to find some guys there that can come in and help us this year. With the schedule coming out, we’re on our way, so we’re excited about it.”
When Manning met with reporters Monday, he was asked if he’d found time to get to know Denver and find a place to live or if it’s been all business. His reply:
“It’s been all business. Everybody’s asking me where I’m living. I been living over here, living here at the facility.”
The Broncos’ schedule, released Tuesday, is the second-toughest in the league based on the records of their opponents a year ago (139-117). But while the difficult early stretch jumped off the page — the Broncos play four playoff teams from last season in their first six games — Elway focused more on the road-heavy midsection of the schedule.
After playing three of their first four at home, the Broncos travel to seven of their next ten before finishing with two home games. That’s why, despite the degree of difficulty of the opponents, Elway believes the Broncos must get off to a quick start by taking advantage of the early home games.
“After the bye (following Week 6), we’re on the road five out of (eight) weeks,” he said. “That’s why it’s going to be so crucial to us to get off to a good start. I think we did a better job on the road last year than we have in the past, but we’re going to have to go in with the mentality of being able to win big games against good football teams on the road.”
The Broncos have five nationally-televised prime-time games — two Sunday night games, two Monday night games and a Thursday night game — including the first two, a Sunday night game at home against Pittsburgh in a rematch of last season’s playoff contest and a Monday night game at Atlanta.
It’s the first time they’ve had back-to-back prime time games since 2007 and the first time they’ve ever opened a season that way. They could also end up with a sixth national TV game if one of their Sunday games is flexed into a Sunday night game during Weeks 11-17.
“It’s going to be exciting opening at home against the Steelers,” Elway said. “Anytime you open at home on Sunday night there’s going to be great excitement with that, but we know that’s going to be an important football game for us because we’ve got to win those football games at home, especially the openers.”
In all, the Broncos play seven games against teams that qualified for the playoffs last year. Only the Super Bowl champion New York Giants’ opponents had a better combined record in 2011 (140-116).
“It’s an exciting schedule,” Elway said. “The fans should be excited about it. We’ll be ready for the challenge. We’ve got five playoff teams out of the first seven and the other two are San Diego and Oakland in our division. So we’re going to try to get off to a quick start. That’s why this offseason is going to be that important to us.”
Before any of that, of course, Elway and his front office and coaching staffs get a chance to fortify the roster further in next week’s NFL draft.
“With a year under my belt, I’m in a lot better shape than I was last year, even though I felt I was in pretty good shape last year,” Elway said. “But I think the experience and plus everybody working together, our personnel staff, Matt Russell, Brian Xanders, everybody’s done a tremendous job. And getting involved with the coaches and understanding the coaches, what we’re looking for on the defensive side as well as the offensive side, I just think that year of everybody being together is going to help us tremendously.”
Elway also said the club’s most recent addition, Manning’s friend and former teammate Brandon Stokley, should help other players adapt to the new quarterback and offense. Stokley is also a former Bronco and resident of Castle Rock. He was a workhorse slot receiver for Manning in Indianapolis from 2003-06, catching 68 passes for 1,077 yards in 2004.
“Obviously, he brings great experience,” Elway said. “He’s worked with Peyton before, he’s been in the type offense that Peyton has run. He understands what Peyton’s all about. Not only is he a fantastic receiver, he’s also going to be able to help everybody else, especially the receivers, understand the way the Peyton thinks and what he expects. So he’ll be a great leader for us in that room.”