"Peyton has a lot more zip"

Friday August 21st, 2015

Site: Broncos’ practice facility; Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Broncos Centre, Englewood, Co.

What I saw: The final practice of the Broncos’ training camp, held in the morning, under clear skies, without shade.

Three things you need to know about the Broncos.

1. Teammates are raving about Peyton Manning’s arm. Now, they should be expected to say that, of course. It is training camp, after all, when everyone is ready and everything is perfect. But … the way last season ended for Manning, when his body failed him and his passes wobbled and fell short of their intended targets, it seemed fair to wonder if he would retire, or at least if he was thinking seriously about retirement, or should have been. But Manning has taken every fourth day off this camp, Thursday included. And that rest, combined with a typical offseason training regimen and a new head coach in Gary Kubiak, has the Broncos describing Manning’s throws with a word not often associated with a 39-year-old quarterback – zip. “He has a lot more zip,” said cornerback Aqib. “Chris Harris (Jr.) and I were just talking about that. He’s throwing that thing around this camp. He’s throwing comebacks from the opposite hash.”

“His balls are just so perfect right now,” Harris added. “When you got to take a pay cut, anything like that, that’s going to motivate you. You definitely know he’s motivated, and everybody is counting him out after what he’s done. Then he had the Tom Brady thing and what he said. So he has a chip on his shoulder, too.”

That’s how the Broncos described Manning. As the player he has always been but with more of an edge. We’ll see, come December.

2. C.J. Anderson is ready to carry the not just the ball but the Broncos offense. In fact, Anderson has spent his life pointed toward this moment – his first season as a starter, in an offense that evolved last season into more of a power run attack, after he gained 849 rushing yards and scored eight touchdowns in only seven starts last season. Anderson suffered some hip pain after he collided with Danny Trevathan in practice recently. But Thursday he said he feels fine. “I’m just hungry,” he said. “I’ve just got a lot to prove. I just want to go do it.”

“It’s something I’ve been dreaming about, trying to be THE guy,” Anderson added after practice. “But at the end of the day, we’ve got three superstars on this offense, and I’m not one of them.”

Yet.

Anderson should benefit this season from an offseason in which he built trust with Manning. The two exchanged text messages often. They also talked about Kubiak’s run scheme, which is more straightforward and downhill, which suits a fast bruiser like Anderson, who is 5-8, 224. All he had to do was look at the season Justin Forsett (1,266 yards, eight touchdowns) had under Kubiak in Baltimore last year. Forsett, like Anderson, played at Cal in college, and now Anderson is hoping to duplicate Forsett’s career season from 2014.

3. Watch out for this Wade Phillips defense.  When Wade Phillips became the Broncos head coach in 1993, the team’s current star rush linebacker Von Miller was 4 years old. Now, Phillips is back in Denver – after many stops and a one-year hiatus – and he inherits not only Miller but rush linebacker DeMarcus Ware, Talib, safety T.J. Ward and rookie Shane Ray, a first-round pick, from Missouri. This is a defense that finished third in the NFL last season (with 181 yards allowed per game) and did that despite the fact that Ware, Talib and Ward were all newcomers. This offseason, they learned a new scheme, which they described as more straightforward, less complex. “It’s Wade’s system,” Talib said. “It’s simple. He lets you play. There’s not a lot of thinking. It’s just a lot of running.”

Harris said the defense picked up the scheme this spring and arrived at training camp ready to implement it. He said Phillips preached the importance of turnovers and limiting mental errors. The Broncos had seven sacks in their preseason opener against the Seahawks. “If we’re not in the top five again, then we didn’t do our job,” Harris said.

 

What will determine success or failure in 2015 for the Broncos: Two related things: Manning’s health, specifically as it relates to his throwing motion. And whether a young offensive line can protect Manning so that he doesn’t suffer another injury that dooms another Denver season. In left tackle Ty Sambrailo, left guard Max Garcia and center Matt Paradis, the Broncos could deploy an offensive line where three-fifths of the starters have yet to take a single regular-season snap. The last team that did that? The Broncos, in 2010. They finished 4-12 that season and their coach, Josh McDaniels, was fired.

Player I saw and really liked:Brock Osweiler, backup quarterback. You could make the argument that Osweiler, given Manning’s age, and his injury issues the past few seasons, ranks among the most important backups in professional football. Osweiler is now in his fourth season, after the Broncos spent a second-round pick on him in 2012. “I played against Brock in college,” Anderson said. “He threw three picks against us. We won the game. But seeing that Brock to now is just a story of change. He’s grown so much. How can you not grow when you’re behind Peyton?”

Five dot-dot-dot observations: Wednesday, as the final day of training camp, marked rookie haircut day. Veterans like Harris were spotted with clippers in hand headed toward the locker room. “I don’t think we did haircuts my rookie year (in New England),” Talib said. “We did more the cash. Lot of cash. I would rather the haircut. I got a lot of cash out my pocket, definitely.” … Harris, never shy, said, “I feel like I’m the most underrated player in the league. It confuses me, because I’ve been the most consistent corner in the NFL.” He pointed to last season, when he didn’t yield a single touchdown and said he didn’t give up a pass play longer than 22 yards … Anderson is aware that many of you are counting on him in your fantasy league. In fact, two cousins and his older brother both said they drafted him and asked him to have a big year. Like he planned not to. “I’ve always had that same thing about fantasy,” Anderson said. “If you draft me, I’m going to play hard, no matter how many plays I get. If you decide to play me that day, then, hey, good day for you. And if you don’t, bad day for you” … Receiver Emmanuel Sanders recently told reporters who cover the team that Manning seems to be throwing harder without a glove. Manning, speaking to the media on Wednesday, didn’t seem to buy that. He jokingly wondered if Sanders was clamoring for more catches. And of his grip, he said he should test the strength on a pickle jar. Hashtag: #whatqualifiesastrainingcampnews … Ware wore Google Glass to his interview session. “It’s a new video recording thing so I can see what you guys see,” he told reporters. “I can see you guys like a big peripheral through the glasses. Cameras on cameras. Machine on machine.”

The one name on the roster I'd forgotten: Cody Latimer, second-year receiver, second-round pick in 2014. Is this the year he makes a leap under Manning? Or are there too many other targets?

The one thing I will remember about Dove Valley: The hill that fans watch training camp from. It’s at the far end of the field, away from the facility, and it’s packed with fans clad in Broncos’ colors. It reminded me of Henman Hill at Wimbledon, where all the Brits gathered to cheer on Tim Henman, and, now, Andy Murray.

Gut feeling as I left camp: There’s a lot of chatter about how the Chiefs may dethrone the Broncos in the AFC West. That’s valid. But I like the Broncos to win the division again, in a close race, because Manning is healthy throughout. Oh, and Miller’s gut feeling? “This is my best camp,” he said. “By far.”

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