He gets asked about his arm strength – he won’t go there, really -- but folks ask anyway. He gets asked about his neck, wobbly passes, touchdowns, all-time records, legacy, guys on his team, guys who used to be on his team, guys on other teams, guys who used to be on other teams, his brother(s), his dad, his family, New Orleans and if he considers himself a rapper.
And he’s asked about chemistry a lot. Not so much the carbon and life kind, but football. So when folks wonder where the Broncos can go on offense from the single-season record of 606 point the team set last year. The answer for Manning, at least in part, is in chemistry.
“I think there is two kinds," Manning said. “I think there is after-the-snap chemistry where you’re understanding where (tight end) Julius (Thomas) is going to be on a certain route, and then there is before the snap, being sure that everybody knows the signals, knows the code words and all the pre-snap changes that we constantly make."
Those who know him say this is why people have never really heard Manning publicly bemoan practice, criticize the time spent in an offseason workout or rarely fail to stay after practices in this, his 17th NFL season. Because his deal, as the Broncos continue to plow through training camp with Manning having thrown in every practice, is chemistry.
“You want to be able to make adjustments as quickly as you can, have everybody be on the same page, because your main advantage on offense is you know where you’re going," Manning said. “So, it’s always going to be better if everybody knows where they’re going … I tell the story, but with Marvin (Harrison) we got to a point where we could change something when he came by me in motion and we could run it the way we had practiced it. That’s the chemistry that makes you productive because the goal is to score touchdowns and win games."
So while many personnel executives in the league look at a Broncos offense that could be more explosive, with Montee Ball at running back and Emmanuel Sanders to go with rookie Cody Latimer in the rotation at wide receiver, Manning sees chemistry as what will make the difference.
It’s why Latimer and Sanders have spent so much time with the quarterback after training camp practices, when most of the other players have already gone to the locker room. It’s why at times Ball will find himself standing next to Manning during practice and Manning will be diagramming some part of a play with his hands slicing through the air.
The Broncos work fast on offense, don’t huddle all that much and Manning has complete freedom to change plays, or parts of plays, as often as the play clock allows before the snap, often with a simple code word.
“That’s the part you adjust to," Ball said. “The football part -- running, catching -- you can do that. But with Peyton, in this offense, you have to be ready to adjust and you have to be where you’re supposed to be to make it work."
It’s also why, at times, folks on the outside might look at who’s playing and who isn’t and wonder why if the football trinity of height, weight and speed are the only considerations.
“It is not an easy offense to learn if you’re a receiver and for a young player or a veteran free agent, like Emmanuel here," Manning said. “ … It is not easy to learn, so the more we can rep it out here in practice, I think the better it gives them chances to see … let’s face it, the cerebral part of the game, to me, is just as important as the physical part of the game. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it is hard to put you in there.”
Last season Knowshon Moreno went from shaky roster spot to starting running back in a matter of weeks because he knew what he was doing more consistently than the other guys. When Ball showed he too could consistently make the adjustments and be where he was supposed to be down the stretch last season, the Broncos promoted him to the starter in offseason workouts and did not attempt to sign Moreno in free agency.
When the Broncos scouted receivers for this past May’s draft, they wanted size, speed and the ability to make a contested catch, but they also needed a receiver who could handle being a receiver in their offense, a player who could handle what Manning and the offense throw at him. The Broncos believe Latimer was that guy, so they took him in the second round.
“I know there is a time when their heads are swimming, I mean, mine was swimming right after I signed when I got the playbook," Manning said. “Nobody really wants to keep hearing it, but it takes time and repetition, and the payoff is having success in games. You get to see the work you did pay off and if it you didn’t put in the work, put in the time, you see that, too."
Or as former Broncos wide receiver Brandon Stokley put it; “It’s not always the fastest, the strongest, or whatever -- it’s the guys who get themselves in the right place. You have to be athletic enough to play in the league, but to be everything you can be with Peyton, you have to be in the right spot every time. You do that and you’ll get the ball and do things everybody in this league wants to do."