ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Peyton Manning hadn’t seen — or heard — anything quite like the reception he received Thursday morning as he took the field in front of Broncos fans for the first time.
The ovation of fans who’d already crowded the grassy knolls that bracket the practice fields was loud, long and loving — the kind you’d expect for someone who’d played here a decade rather than four months. And while typically quiet moments followed throughout the practice, the buzz Manning caused never truly subsided.
“I don’t think we’d ever have to incorporate fake crowd noise out here if we wanted to work on playing on the road. I think this crowd can handle it for us,” Manning said.
But above all, this was a day for Manning to get back to work. Although the sight of the four-time MVP in orange and blue is a novelty to the fans, it’s nothing new for Manning after working throughout the offseason during OTAs and minicamp.
“I’ve kind of gotten past that part, and I haven’t gotten too nostalgic about it,” Manning said.
There was no evidence of any lingering issues from his four neck surgeries. Manning was crisp, on target and completed an array of passes — including some deep tosses to wide receiver Andre Caldwell up the sideline.
It was vintage Manning — cool, commanding, efficient. His emotion was low; his focus on execution was high.
“He’s a player/coach, so he wants things precise; he wants you to be at a certain point at a certain time, just know your stuff and just work hard,” said running back Lance Ball.
COMPARE AND CONTRAST: The ex-teammates of Tim Tebow generally don’t want to look like they’re putting down their former quarterback, but the difference in atmosphere and performance of the offense Thursday was obvious.
The attendance of 4,372 shattered a Broncos training-camp record for practices held at team headquarters. The ovation for Peyton Manning was arguably the loudest ever heard to greet a player since camp was moved to Dove Valley from the University of Northern Colorado in 2003.
And the scattershot passing of Tebow was long gone; over two consecutive periods during seven-on-seven and team drills, Manning completed eight of nine passes, and the only blemish was a drop.
Just as the novelty of a Broncos helmet had faded for Manning, so had the novelty of catching passes from him.
“I’m just so focused on catching the damn ball that it could be my wife out there throwing it to me,” said tight end Joel Dreessen.
- Wide receiver Greg Orton had the finest catch of the morning, a diving reception on a post pattern from Manning that saw him beat Rahim Moore to the end zone for the football during a one-on-one drill. Orton bobbled the ball slightly, but still came down with it. Denver’s quarterbacks weren’t shy about going deep, but others obviously lacked the consistency of Manning. This was best encapsulated by consecutive deep tosses by Caleb Hanie; the first was gorgeous and split two defenders; the second was overthrown and picked off by Tony Carter.
- Four Broncos fielded punts: cornerbacks Syd’Quan Thompson, Tracy Porter and Drayton Florence and wide receiver Eric Decker. Eric Page was expected to be in the mix there before tearing his ACL and being released.
- Manning took approximately half the snaps in the practice, with the rest divided fairly equally among Adam Weber, Caleb Hanie and Brock Osweiler.
- Derek Wolfe had pressures of Caleb Hanie on back-to-back plays during a team period. Wolfe was one of the second-team defensive ends after playing defensive tackle in college. “It’s not really that much different,” Wolfe said. “Defensive line is defensive line. It’s all the same. It’s all technique. You’re all in the same gap.”
- Wide receiver Brandon Stokley was the only player absent; he came down with the flu.
- Five players were in uniform but did not take part in the team portion of practice: tight end Julius Thomas, running back Knowshon Moreno, right guard Chris Kuper, defensive tackle Justin Bannan and defensive end Jamie Blatnick.
- Stokley’s absence meant plenty of work for Andre Caldwell as a slot wide receiver.
- With Kuper sidelined, Manuel Ramirez filled in at right guard on the first team. Ramirez handled that work throughout organized activities and minicamp while Kuper continued his recovery from a fractured leg and torn ankle ligaments. Other than Kuper, the first-team offensive line was as it was most of last year, with Ryan Clady at left tackle, Zane Beadles at left guard, J.D. Walton at center and Orlando Franklin at right tackle. With Ramirez working on the first unit, C.J. Davis was the second-team center.
- Bannan’s calf problem kept him out of the team period, leaving Mitch Unrein and Ty Warren as the first-team defensive tackles. Kevin Vickerson and Sealver Siliga lined up with the second unit.
- D.J. Williams’ upcoming suspension pushed Wesley Woodyard onto the first team at weakside linebacker, with rookie Danny Trevathan backing him up. Williams was spotted running windsprints on an adjacent field during a team period.
- Rahim Moore’s comeback from a midseason benching last year continued as he was with the first team at safety next to Mike Adams. Moore began working with the first team during OTAs and by minicamp was splitting starter’s repetitions with Quinton Carter, the fellow 2011 draft pick who supplanted him in the starting lineup last year. Carter and Rafael Bush were the second-team safeties; David Bruton and Duke Ihenacho worked with the third unit.
- The first-team cornerbacks were Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter. Drayton Florence was the nickelback; Chris Harris was the dime back.
- Most of the practice took place in comfortable conditions. The session began in 73-degree conditions under partly cloudy skies, but the temperature rose to 84 degrees by the time the last whistle blew — not that it really matters. “I’ve always thought when it’s hot out here, when fans are cheering you on, they can kind of get you through a tough two-a-day practice in the heat,” Manning said.
- Friday afternoon at 2:20 p.m. MDT. The gates open at 1:20 p.m.