- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A new playbook means new things for everybody in the Denver Broncos offense.
That includes one 39-year-old Hall-of-Fame-bound quarterback very used to doing things how he likes to do them. And right now, Peyton Manning's to-do list in the new scheme includes taking all of the snaps directly under center -- something that has been far more the exception than the rule for Manning in recent seasons.
So yes, here’s Manning in the middle of the learning curve as the Broncos kick the tires on the new offense. Now in his fourth season with the team, Manning has gone to work for his third different play-caller.
That’s from Mike McCoy in 2012 to Adam Gase in '13 and '14 to however coach Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison divvy up the headset work this fall.
"I’m spending a lot of time with [Dennison] and talking to him," Manning said. "I know coach Kubiak is going to be very involved as well. I think as much time as you can spend time talking out here on the practice field, after a play ... I love being coached. I get angry when I’m not coached. I ask a lot of questions and certainly appreciate any insight and feedback. I think if you ever stop listening to coaching or stop asking questions, you probably need to be doing something else."
Kubiak has consistently said he understands Manning "is one of the best to ever play this game," and would build an offense that fits what Manning does and what Manning likes. But Kubiak also wants to stay true to what he believes in and what he believes will help keep Manning healthy and producing at a high level down the stretch in the coming season.
That includes a more effective running game that can keep a defense from guessing which way the play is coming from. And Kubiak simply believes a quarterback working under center keeps the running back in a position "where you’re not declaring before the play" the direction the play is going.
That doesn’t mean Kubiak won’t let Manning work from the shotgun, but he wants to have Manning do both. So for these early on-field practices in the Broncos' organized team activities, Manning has been almost exclusively under center.
"That’s kind of the plan, we’re going to do that initially," Kubiak said. "We know the other end of the stick is fine, he’s been doing that forever. So we’re going to spend a lot of time under center initially in our process and how we go about our teaching. We kind of have a nine-day teaching installation period that we have, so he’s going to be under there for a good three days before we move back."
For some perspective, consider the Broncos used the shotgun on 75.3 percent of their offensive snaps last season. That included five games when they ran plays out of the shotgun on at least 65 plays.
The Broncos also ran the ball out of the shotgun 25.4 percent of the time they were in the formation. So, an offense that threw the ball on 57 percent of its plays overall, even one as high-powered as the Broncos went 3-to-1 pass to run in the shotgun.
Some of that was to be expected in many down-and-distance situations when the Broncos were in the shotgun, but Kubiak expects to add at least some mystery about when Manning will throw the ball with plenty more play-action as well.
"Obviously, under center, you can keep your eyes on the defense a little bit longer to tell you the truth," Manning said. "When it’s the shotgun, you’ve got to keep your eyes on the ball at some point. ... Probably some things that are easier about under center as far as seeing late rotations and seeing certain key players."
It’s certainly early and things that look great with folks running around in shorts, jerseys and helmets often don’t look all that good when the pads go on and the defense gets a week to plan for you. But Manning said he’s confident he can line up and play however the Broncos want him to.
And if it helps keep the rushers off him, the offense should benefit. The team has averaged a staggering 34 points per game over the past two seasons combined but has been unable to turn that touchdown production into another trophy for the case in the lobby of the team’s complex.
Even in these early baby steps, that’s exactly what all involved would like to do with the new playbook.
"I think now is the time where we’re trying to figure out what things work best for us," Manning said. "I’m sure -- I’m not speaking for the coaches -- that they’re looking at us and seeing what players can do what. As players, we’re trying to get as comfortable as we can with the plays that we’re running. ... This is the time to learn and experiment and see what things work best and what things please the coaches the most."
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