By Dan Pompei, Chicago Tribune –
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos’ team logo still shows a horse’s face, not Peyton Manning’s.
He is not playing defensive end, kicker and punt returner in addition to quarterback.
He has taken over vice president John Elway’s old position on the field, but not his spot in the front office.
Yet, to the world outside of the Broncos’ Dove Valley training facility, this has become the Denver Mannings.
The former Colts quarterback and future Hall of Fame quarterback is expected to do for the Broncos what he has done previously: Win a Super Bowl. Play like a four-time most valuable player. Set records.
That is all.
Never mind those four neck surgeries, 19 months off, a new offense and new teammates to get acquainted with and the fact he is 36.
He still is Peyton Manning. And his impact on this team is palpable in many ways.
Wide receiver Brandon Stokley, who was Manning’s teammate with the Colts for four years and has joined forces with him again here, says Manning’s presence gives the Broncos a chance to be great.
Broncos coach John Fox refers to Manning as a player who “raises all boats.”
His leadership is rare.
“The great thing is when you have a veteran like that, he knows what it takes,” Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said. “When things don’t go the way you want them to go, he’s not afraid to speak up. It’s great for the young guys to see how it should be done every day. He works harder than (anybody).”
He even has affected the defense.
“With a guy like that moving at the pace he moves, it forces everyone to move at his pace,” defensive end Elvis Dumervil said.
This is what the Broncos hoped for in the offseason when they gave Manning a five-year, $96 million contract after he rejected the Chiefs, Dolphins, Jets, Redskins Seahawks, Titans and 49ers for them.
But Manning still is going to need some help. Maybe more than he ever has.
He will need young, promising receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker to learn what he wants from them and to play consistently.
Manning also will need familiar faces Stokley and Jacob Tamme to help him bridge the gap between offensive systems and provide reliability as well as stability. Both former Colts have stood out in camp.
“It helps certainly to have familiar faces,” said Manning, who is expected to make his Broncos debut Thursday night against the Bears at Soldier Field. “It makes me comfortable when I line up in certain formations and see Stokley and Tamme in each slot. Any time you make a big transition, and this is big, any signs of familiarity do make you feel comfortable.”
Manning also will need a running game. The Broncos led the league in rushing yards a year ago, but may find manufacturing a ground attack will be more challenging without option master Tim Tebow under center.
Fox’s history says he will not downplay the run. But he never has had a quarterback whose ability comes close to Manning’s.
“It’s still always important to be balanced regardless of how good your quarterback is,” Fox said. “(Still,) there is no doubt you can open it up a little if you have more confidence and you can execute better.”
Manning also will need help from the defense. The Broncos have a new coordinator with a somewhat different scheme and are likely to have five new starters.
“We’ve tried to incorporate some of the things they did well here in the past and some of the terminology they understood, then blend it with some of the things I believe you have to do,” new defensive coordinator and former Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. “We added more multiple fronts and more mixing of coverages, some of the things Coach Fox and I have a common vision about how it should look.”
It is all likely to look much better if Manning still is Manning. And the early indications are that he is.
There is a scar, about an inch long, at the base of the front of his neck, just to the left of center. But it wasn’t visible when he lofted a beautiful 40-yard touchdown pass to Thomas in practice the other day. Or when he was hitting out routes on the money.
“To me his arm looks the same,” Stokley said. “It’s no different than what it was six years ago. I can’t tell the difference.”
You, however, can tell the difference in these Broncos.