ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In the notebooks that are beginning to stack up at Brock Osweiler’s house, there is a small mark next to some of the entries. The rookie backup quarterback is doing his best to learn from everyone — his head coach, his position coaches, his teammates — so he makes sure to write down just about everything.
But one person’s advice gets special treatment. One person’s advice gets a “P” notation.
“I mean, shoot, it’s maybe the greatest quarterback of all time,” Osweiler said.
That’s what Peyton Manning inspires around the Denver locker room, his new refuge after 14 Hall of Fame years in Indianapolis and an ugly divorce from the Colts. He makes his teammates stand a little straighter, study a little harder, and take copious notes.
“Every once in a while, he’ll say a specific thing about certain coverage or a certain play, maybe how you should read the play out,” Osweiler said. “And if it’s something specific coming from Peyton, I just make sure I put a little ‘P’ next to it so I know it’s him.
“Five, six, seven years down the road, when I look back at my notes when we’re getting ready to play a certain team, it’s like, hey, this is what Peyton said to do.”
The veneration is clear. Playing next to, or behind, Manning means something to his teammates, means hope for the postseason and a need to work harder. It means far more than playing with Tim Tebow ever did.
“It changes that attitude,” said John Elway, another Hall of Fame quarterback who is Denver’s executive vice president of football operations. “It gives hope to the other guys on that football team.
“They have a chance to compete for world championships, and I think, as a player, that’s what you want to be, is part of an organization that has that goal. And Peyton gives that. As [coach] John Fox has said, Peyton raises all boats.”
It wasn’t just any quarterback the Broncos signed in the offseason, after all.
“Most quarterbacks,” said receiver Brandon Stokley, “don’t carry that aura.”
Like a second coach
When Willis McGahee reflects on the last time the Broncos faced the Patriots — a humbling 45-10 loss in the second round of the 2011 playoffs — he notes the differences this time around.
There is a different work ethic, a different focus. There is, also, “our El Capitan, Peyton Manning out there,” McGahee said. “I think he’s given us an edge.”
He has also helped produce that new work ethic.
“It’s just a real sense of accountability,” said tight end Jacob Tamme, who played with Manning for four seasons in Indianapolis. “Everybody wants to do their job to the highest level. Nobody prepares harder than Peyton, so it helps everybody sort of step their game up.”
There are player-driven film sessions in which the Broncos watch as Manning runs the remote and offers his take, culled from thousands of plays, thousands of situations. There are moments in practice when Fox is silent, when Manning is the one calling out to receivers, cajoling them and positioning them.
They see the work. They see the desire. Neither was dimmed by the year off due to injury.
“I still have a passion for it,” said Manning, who has had a series of surgical procedures on his neck. “I still enjoy the preparation, the work of it, the offseason, the Mondays, the Tuesdays, the game planning, I still enjoy that.”
“I’ve learned from him how to not waste a single minute,” Osweiler said. “He comes in, and from the time that he gets to the building to the time he leaves, it’s all work. He’s not wasting any time.
“In his free time, he’s breaking down film, he’s working on the game plan, and as a young quarterback, that’s pretty cool to see what it takes to be successful at this level.”
“Oh, yeah,” McGahee said. “It changes a culture.”
Pressure to win
It’s not often that Stokley sees a hit to his quarterback. He’s usually facing away, concerned with running his own route, getting to his own spot. He saw the first one, though, a body slam on Manning by the Seahawks in the second exhibition game.
And then he saw the standing ovation.
“What are they cheering so loud for?” Stokley wondered.
Then he got it, realizing the crowd had picked up that it was Manning’s first hit since the surgeries. It was a moment that might have made the Broncos wince. No longer.
“It’s kind of one of those things where you don’t hold your breath anymore,” Stokley said.
Now, the Broncos are more concerned with winning than the health of their seemingly fragile quarterback. Because with the signing of Manning came pressure, to continue the team’s upward trajectory, to justify the signing. They are off to only a 2-2 start as they play the Patriots in Foxborough Sunday. Continued...