As Manning era begins, Broncos welcome great expectations

When John Fox arrived as the Broncos’ new head coach last year, nobody expected much. The team he was taking over had gone 4-12 in 2010, and few experts thought it would do much better in 2011.

A year later, as Fox enters his second season in Colorado, his team has the top national story of training camp — the comeback of Peyton Manning — and many analysts are picking it to win the AFC West.

“I would hope the longer you’re in an organization that the expectations increase,” Fox said Wednesday after players reported for training camp.

“I don’t think that hurts anything. I would hope that everybody in that locker room or in that 4 o’clock meeting today has got great expectations. I think if you look around at the other 31 cities in the National Football League, I would say that everybody’s goal is to win that world championship. That’s kind of what I think everybody’s expectations are.”

The overflow media crowd at Dove Valley on Wednesday reflected intense national interest in Manning’s comeback after the four-time Most Valuable Player missed all of last season rehabilitating from neck surgery. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King listed it as the NFL’s top summer story line as he embarked on his annual tour of training camps.

Reporters and analysts will be watching Manning’s passing in camp, trying to gauge his arm strength and endurance. Dove Valley insiders say he has brought an unparalleled work ethic since signing with the Broncos as a free agent in March.

“Obviously, we’re very excited,” Fox said. “Peyton’s done everything humanly possible, both physically and mentally, to get ready for this. I know he’s excited, the rest of our team’s excited, but he’s a tremendous competitor and we’re very blessed to have him.

“I think physically he’s made tremendous improvement. I’m not sure I’ve ever been around a player with as intense work ethic as him, both physically and mentally. So he’s worked very hard. He didn’t take the last five weeks off by any stretch. By all indications he’s made great progress and we’re happy with where he is.”

Fox and his staff are hopeful that Manning’s perfectionism will rub off on his teammates as camp goes on.

“Peyton’s going to be himself,” Fox said. “What (that’s) been is a tremendous leader, a great student of the game. When you’ve won the MVP that many times and you’ve had the accomplishments on the field he has, he can’t help but have some swagger to him, and I think that’s contagious.

“We said early on that he’s the type of player that raises all boats, from how they practice, how they approach practice. I’m talking about his teammates. He’s a very unselfish guy, a great teammate, and that should be a very positive influence on our team.”

Like every NFL team, the Broncos have plenty of questions going into camp. Elvis Dumervil spoke with reporters Wednesday but declined comment on his arrest in Florida last week, saying he would await the results of the ongoing investigation by Florida law enforcement authorities. Fox said the club would do the same. Dumervil was initially charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon following an incident described as a traffic confrontation in Miami Beach.

With linebacker D.J. Williams suspended for at least the first six games of the season after failing a league drug test, Fox acknowledged that the veteran linebacker is unlikely to line up with the first-team defense in camp.

Williams tweeted earlier that he had been moved from his weak-side linebacker position during the offseason, prompting speculation that Von Miller, last year’s NFL defensive rookie of the year, might move to the weak side to accentuate his pass rushing abilities. Joe Mays is the incumbent middle linebacker on run downs. With Williams out, Wesley Woodyard may be the leading candidate to join the starting lineup entering camp.

Fox also said he has no specific “pitch count” for Manning — a limit on the number of throws he makes per practice or per day as he regains arm strength following a season on the injured list — but said he will monitor how his arm is feeling as camp progresses.

Between the expectations that come with Manning and the opening of a new season, spirits were high Wednesday, the manicured practice fields ready for the first workout Thursday morning.

“With each season, what’s great about the NFL, it’s new,” Fox said. “It’s 32 teams all 0-0. It’s a new race, so to speak. It’s always good getting the guys back. They all look good, they have smiles on their faces and they’re excited about getting this training camp started.”

About Dave Krieger

Dave Krieger is a recidivist newspaperman. View all posts by Dave Krieger

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