NFL: Broncos' Manning faces same expectations, has new weapons
Englewood, Colo. • Peyton Manning sauntered over to the podium after his first full practice since the Denver Broncos' loss to Baltimore in the playoffs, weaving his way through all the outstretched microphones, smartphones and bank of cameras.
Right out of the gate, somebody asked about his health.
"Yeah, I feel fine," he responded.
Really, it's no longer about Manning's health but his hardiness. He proved he could come back from a year's forced sabbatical. Now, he's out to show he can put it all together again and reach the Super Bowl he seemed so destined for by the time the playoffs rolled around last year.
Manning may be another year removed from those neck surgeries that were such a hot topic a year ago, but he's under just as much scrutiny heading into his second season in Denver. At 37, he shoulders the heavy weight of high expectations after such a successful return in 2102, when he threw for 4,600 yards and 37 touchdowns after sitting out his final season in Indianapolis.
There's a Super Bowl-or-bust kind of buzz in Denver after John Elway added Wes Welker, Louis Vasquez and Montee Ball this offseason to Manning's already impressive supporting cast.
The Broncos easily could have stood pat in the offseason, figuring like so many that their double-overtime upset loss to the Ravens in the divisional round was simply a fluke. Instead, Elway's signing of Welker to team with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker was the highlight of another active year in free agency, and in the draft he grabbed Wisconsin's Ball, giving the Broncos the big, bruising running back they sorely missed in the playoffs.
Adam Gase, who was elevated to offensive coordinator after Mike McCoy got the head coaching job in San Diego, favors a more up-tempo, aggressive approach with so much talent surrounding one of the game's greatest quarterbacks. Speeding things up will help give Manning more snaps to share the ball with his terrific trio of receivers who combined for 297 catches and 29 touchdowns last season.
Manning got a jump-start on practicing with the new Three Amigos when he invited them to work out at Duke University this spring.
"Especially as a quarterback, you like wide receivers that like to work, that like to perfect their craft, and all three of those guys really like to do that," Manning said.