- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Throughout the offseason, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said one of the biggest parts of the decision to return for the 2015 season was "to know kind of what your role is, I kind of like to know what the plan is so I can get to work on it."
When Manning talks about success, he inevitably talks about the “work it takes." When he talks about a new teammate, he says, “I look forward to working with him."
So when the Broncos say their best chance at a Super Bowl is for Manning to work, at least in a helmet, a little less, well, now that may take some negotiation.
"I know he’s going to be beatin' my door down to be out there every day, but it will be good for him and good for the team," Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. "We’ve got a plan in place and we’ll stick to that plan."
In short, the Broncos want to make sure their 39-year-old future Hall of Famer has the kind of finishing kick to push the team toward the goal of another Super Bowl trophy instead of the playoff disappointment of last January's loss to the Colts, when a lackluster overall effort by the Broncos included Manning hurting and out of sorts behind a struggling offensive line.
Last season through the Nov. 9 win in Oakland, Manning had 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions; after that win over the Raiders, he had 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions, slowed by shaky play in the offensive line that worsened down the stretch as well as a thigh injury over the last three games of the regular season.
So Kubiak, who was once the offensive coordinator for a 38-year-old future Hall of Famer at quarterback in John Elway, wants to adjust Manning’s workload. Manning was given some practices off during the team’s offseason program and Kubiak said the Broncos will monitor Manning’s snaps in the practices the quarterback participates in as well as giving him a practice off "every three, four days."
"He's doing that with a number of players," Manning said Friday. "I’m fine with that."
It has been an early theme for the Broncos in training camp. Having lost left tackle Ryan Clady (knee) and rookie tight end Jeff Heuerman (knee) to season-ending injuries during the offseason program, the Broncos are keenly aware of the injury factor.
Kubiak said the team will stick to an overall plan to get the players acclimated to camp over the early days before cranking things up. Friday that meant a 30-minute walk-through period (no helmets) to close the morning practice followed by a stretching session to end the workout.
“We had a couple injuries in OTAs that obviously everyone was disappointed about," Manning said. “Sometimes that first day back at training camp, you want to be sure no injuries, no setbacks there. So yeah, the staff’s trying to take care of the guys physically. But when we’re out there working, we’re working. It makes a lot of sense."
But constructing a plan to maintain Manning’s health into the back half of the regular season and what the team hopes is a deep run into the postseason has been a top consideration for the Broncos throughout the offseason. Kubiak has said that while he was on Mike Shanahan’s staff, he was part of the same kinds of discussions leading up to Elway’s final two seasons at quarterback in 1997 and 1998.
The Broncos won the Super Bowl in each of those seasons.
“I think, as coaches, I can remember some of the conversations that we’re having now were some of the same conversations we had as coaches going into John’s last year too," Kubiak said. “How we’re going to approach his work and how we’re going to go about things. Peyton is part of the conversation every day as far as reps and throws and those type of things. It will be monitored. I think that he responded really well in the offseason program about not working every day. I think that his arm looked really good. I thought, physically, looked really good, and I want to stay that course."
“But I think the key thing with Peyton, and I think Peyton's on board with it, is that even though you can't feel it now, if you're doing too much work now, eventually that's going to catch up to you,’’ Elway said. “Because at 37, 38, 39 years old where he is, you can't make that up at the end. It's going to be important that he's a part of that management process and willing to be able to take some time off to where he is just as good late as he is early and we don't wear him down.
“He'll never feel it, but all of a sudden you get to December or we get to January and if we haven't taken care of that in August, September, October, then that could hurt him and us."
2dEric D. Williams