You don’t necessarily expect the electronic communication system between coaches and the quarterback to go down in the first scrimmage of the year, but when it happened Saturday during the Broncos’ summer scrimmage, it left Peyton Manning doing what he does so often anyway — calling his own play.
Not surprisingly, it turned into the only touchdown of the sun-splashed afternoon.
“I thought (Eric) Decker’s back-shoulder touchdown catch was awesome,” Manning said of the play.
“It was excellent coverage by (Drayton) Florence, but Decker did a good job kind of holding his eyes until the last minute. Back-shoulder fades are a hard route to cover. That was something he and I had been working on, so it was good to kind of put that in play today.”
I mentioned that Manning checked off on the third-down red-zone play and appeared to leave only one second on the play clock.
“The headphones went down, actually,” he said. “Sometimes those do, on occasion. So instead of burning the timeout, coach (offensive coordinator Mike) McCoy just told me, ‘Hey, if the phones go down, just call something that you like.’
“The defense was blitzing, kind of showing man-to-man. Obviously, one-on-one on the outside, Decker and (Demaryius) Thomas have to win. So that was a good play to see out of that guy today.”
When I asked head coach John Fox if he expects to get accustomed to seeing one second on the play clock when the ball is snapped, he laughed.
“I think 18 does a pretty good job of managing the game and the offense,” he said.
The day before, Manning stopped by the KOA tent at Dove Valley and talked about what he’s looking for out of his new receiving corps.
“I think what you want to see is a guy who’s got an excellent work ethic who really wants to get better, who truly wants to master his craft,” Manning said. “I’ve been fortunate to play with a lot of guys who just wanted to get better every day.
“I had a receiver in Marvin Harrison who never missed a practice (and) only would go against the starting corner. If he were here, he would not go unless Champ (Bailey) was going to cover him. He wanted to get better every day. Those are the kind of guys I like playing with and that’s the kind of work ethic I’m seeing so far in these guys.
“Eric and Demaryius, they’re young guys but boy, they really take care of their bodies, they work hard in the weight room, they’re into it in meetings and in practice. I just have a real appreciation for that, being a veteran player seeing a young player with that kind of work ethic, and both of them have a ton of ability.
“To me it is a process, though. You can’t say you’re on the exact same page with a guy after four months. You could argue it might take two seasons to master everything. But you try to get it as good as you can. We do spend a lot of time talking in these walk-throughs, talking on the sideline.
“To me, in practice there’s never a time that you can’t do something to get better. Talk to the guy after the route on the sideline. Whether it’s a completion or an incompletion: ‘Hey, that was exactly what we’re looking for there.’ Or, ‘Here, you might have to cut that route off at 10 yards instead of 12.’ Just the little things because you want to just try to get it right. Because the game’s happening so fast out there, the more you can be on the same page, the better chance you have.”
Being able to count on a receiver being exactly where he’s supposed to be is critical, Manning explained, because on many pass plays, he never sees his intended target.
“As a quarterback, you’ve got guys in front of you, you’ve got rush, you’ve got hands up,” he said. “Dropping back, very rarely do you actually see the receiver. You’re throwing to a spot. Maybe now and then in man-to-man you might lock in on a guy and see, but on these zone coverages, you’re throwing it 18 yards on the hash, on the fifth step of the drop, whatever it may be.
“He’s got to be there. If he’s at 16, it’s not going to be complete. You’re throwing to the spot. That’s where the reps in practice and routes versus air, they’re so important, because they’ve got to be in that spot and you’ve got to trust the guy that he’s going to be there.”
With fans screaming his name and offering jerseys, programs and hats, Manning spent 10 or 15 minutes signing autographs when the scrimmage was over. The Broncos reported 41,304 fans were in attendance at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, a record for the Broncos’ summer scrimmage. Most of the lower deck and club level were filled. A few fans even dotted the upper deck.
“It was a great crowd,” Manning said. “No question the fans were into it. A beautiful day here in Denver. The players were excited. It was a little change in the routine to get out here into the stadium and play in front of the crowd. It really felt like a game atmosphere with the crowd and our pre-game routine. So I knew it was good for me and for a lot of the players going into the game against Chicago on Thursday.”