ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Coach, what’s the deal with, um, the, um, blue ball?
Blue ball, singular.
The question prompted a laugh from Broncos coach John Fox on Thursday after Denver’s first practice of training camp, yet it was warranted. That morning, quarterback Peyton Manning had been toting a blue football, which, Fox said, signified the “same as it was when [the footballs] were green.” Green balls were the stuff of organized team activities, and though Manning was reticent on the subject -- “That’s Denver Broncos offensive business,” he told reporters in May -- the colorful accessories were clearly an exercise in ball control.
Come July, the emphasis continues. In 2013, Denver fumbled the ball 27 times, losing 16. Only three teams had more fumbles, and no one lost as many as Manning and company. By comparison, the Seahawks lost 10 fumbles last year, the Colts, who led the league in this measure, just four.
So for a team that rewrote the NFL’s offensive record book a season ago, ball security has become the focus. When there’s nothing to overhaul, focus shifts to the details, and detail No. 1 has been to hold on to the pigskin for dear life.
“It’s a point of emphasis,” Fox said. “I think more than anything … you kind of get what you emphasize. It’s something we place some emphasis on, and our coaching staff and offensive players have taken to it.”
Call it negative reinforcement, a chore, an opportunity for an off-color joke -- but it’s worked before. In 2012, Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas was forced to babysit a green football after he fumbled in three straight games, losing two. Since then, he’s yet to lose another.
And as for Manning, after a few weeks away from football, the quarterback has adopted a more lighthearted view on the subject. During OTAs, when a reporter pressed him further about his green football, he resorted to a playground taunt.
“It’s kind of an A and B conversation, and you can C your way out of it,” he joked.
On Thursday, though, he seemed more than willing to pay lip service to the subject.
“I know y’all wanted to know about the ball security ball,” Manning began. “Did you ask [Fox]? What did he say? It’s a different color because it’s training camp. Does that make any sense?
“It won’t be blue during the regular season,” he continued. “But training camp?”
And then you realize: he doesn’t want to talk about ball security at all.
“It’s what color in training camp?”
Blue. A blue ball. Manning laughs, and when Manning is laughing, things in Denver are as they should be.