<
>

Peyton Manning expected to back up Brock Osweiler on Sunday

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Perhaps, for the first time since he arrived at the University of Tennessee, Peyton Manning will suit up for a football game and be a team's backup quarterback.

Denver Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said Wednesday that Manning, a five-time NFL MVP, has progressed enough in his rehab from a torn plantar fascia near his left heel to be the team's No. 2 quarterback in Sunday's regular-season finale against the San Diego Chargers. Kubiak had told the media Tuesday that Brock Osweiler would start his seventh consecutive game Sunday.

"Obviously it means a lot," Osweiler said. "It shows that Coach believes in me. ... It feels good, but I have a job to do this week, and that's where my focus is."

With the players having Tuesday off, Osweiler learned of the decision Wednesday.

"I actually just found out a couple minutes ago ... whether I was told yesterday or 30 seconds ago, it's not changing my approach,'' Osweiler said. "I think Coach understands that.''

Kubiak said Manning would be part of practice Wednesday and "will go back to work for the football team this week."

"I'm encouraged about that," Kubiak said late Wednesday afternoon. "We had a good week last week. Hopefully, we have a good week this week and he's available. And if everything goes, and I have no reason to think it should not go well this week, then he would be the backup to Brock in the game."

Manning called it a "positive step to get back on the field, maybe make more of a contribution during the week of practice, more on Sunday than just being in street clothes, so I'll do what I can to help the team, help Brock. I'm happy to be more a part of it now than just being in street clothes, quarantined in the indoor facility working out on my own."

With a win Sunday, the Broncos can clinch their fifth consecutive AFC West title and earn a playoff bye as the AFC's No. 2 seed. The Broncos will get home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs if they win Sunday and the New England Patriots lose to the Miami Dolphins.

"I think [Osweiler has] hardened up and he's toughened up," Kubiak said. "I think he's handled himself like a champ."

Manning said he hasn't thought about whether he can improve enough to be the starter in the playoffs.

"I want to be able to get through this week full capacity ... but to practice Thursday, Friday, Saturday, you know, get back onto the playing field in uniform -- it's been a while, I think it's been like six weeks -- so do whatever we can to get a win Sunday," Manning said. "It's a big game, a lot on the line. ... Whatever I can do to help the team get a win against the Chargers, that's kind of where the focus is, kind of that one-week-at-a-time approach.''

Manning has not played since being removed from the Broncos' Nov. 15 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs and has not taken part in a full team practice since Nov. 13. The Broncos, because of a short week after a win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night, were going to have only a walk-through practice Wednesday night.

The team will have its usual practices Thursday and Friday, and Kubiak said Manning is scheduled to take reps that a backup would normally take in a game week, including a smattering of snaps with the starters as well as working with the scout team against the Broncos' defense.

"It's always been about Peyton's health and getting him back in a position to be available for this football team," Kubiak said. "He's worked his tail off. We've had a couple setbacks along the way. ... Last week was very, very positive. ... We're at the point now where his confidence is up, both physically and where he's at mentally. You know, it's time to take the next step. That next step to me is being in position to play. That means being on the field with us, suiting up for the game. We'll take it one day at a time and take this next step, and he understands that."

Kubiak said he expected only two quarterbacks to be in uniform for the game, Osweiler and Manning, which would put Manning into the lineup if Osweiler were to be injured. Osweiler, who is 4-2 as a starter, has dealt with left shoulder and left elbow injuries this week.

"A lot of guys are beat up this time of year," Osweiler said. "As far as my personal injuries, I feel great and I'm very excited to go play this Sunday."

Asked about the possibility of Manning taking another step back into the starting lineup if he were to continue to progress and show coaches that he is healthy enough, Kubiak said, "I don't want to go that far."

"Brock's our quarterback," Kubiak said. "Nothing has changed from that standpoint. Peyton's availability, that is a change for us this week. Let's keep going. Everybody knows, the team knows, Brock is our quarterback. He's doing a hell of job. Let's just keep moving forward."

Manning had practiced on a limited basis on Dec. 16 and Dec. 17, but he did not practice with the team last week, instead taking part in four throwing sessions with members of the strength and conditioning staff as well as practice squad receiver Jordan Taylor.

"Obviously, Brock's done a hell of a job, and we've got a ton of confidence in him and what he's doing in this football team," Kubiak said. "But we just need to all stay focused on our jobs and get ready to play San Diego."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.