DENVER — There was a special guest watching the Broncos training camp practice Friday.
Actually, Peyton Manning is a frequent guest. The former Broncos quarterback great and Denver resident stops by to watch a camp practice or two every year since 2016. He and the team had to get creative for him to attend this year, though, because of the COVID-19 restrictions.
Manning joined Broncos Hall of Famer Steve Atwater on a tall stage that is set in the parking lot just off the practice fields.
9NEWS caught up with Manning as he and his son Marshall stepped down from the stage after practice.
“I don’t want to join your club in evaluating practices on a daily basis and your prediction of the team based on the Friday practice in August,’’ the ever-wry Manning said through his COVID-19 neck and face gaiter. “But it reminded me of going up against Vic Fangio in training camp when I was playing with the Colts. Vic used to try to win practices. He’s a competitive guy. When you’re on the field with him, everything’s like a game.
“Looked like the defense – I would say defense probably won the day. Although, it’s always a good way for the offense to finish when you go down and score in the 2-minute drill. Any dropped passes or incompletions prior to that can be kind of forgotten.’’
Fangio was the Indianapolis Colts’ defensive coordinator from 1999-2001, Manning’s second, third and fourth seasons as an NFL quarterback. Fangio is a head coach now with the Broncos, which means he is in charge of all units. Does he still pull for the defense during practice even though he’s a head coach?
“Well, I am calling the defenses out there,’’ Fangio said in a Zoom media interview following practice Friday. “So that should answer that question.”
Manning believes it’s good for Broncos’ young quarterback Drew Lock to go up against Fangio’s defense – the basic and exotic looks – each day in practice.
“Look, it’s a cram session,’’ Manning said. “Training camp is supposed to be a reflection of what you did in OTAs and minicamp. This is what worked; this is what didn’t work.
“Now, they’re just finding out what plays they like. And when you add in a new offensive coordinator, it’s just not going to be easy.
“I think we can improve throughout the season. If we think it’s going to be fine-tuned product against the Titans, that’s probably … Teams like the Ravens and Chiefs will have an advantage because returning quarterback, returning system. I think that’s one thing in this pandemic you’re going to see early in the season.
“Now I think we can get better throughout the season. We need our defense to keep us in it as our offense finds our rhythm.”
Notice how Manning refers to the Broncos as ‘we” and “our.” Manning’s famed attention to detail is also noticeable as he talked. Come to think of it: Can you imagine how Manning would have been as an active quarterback during this pandemic? No OTAS, no minicamp, no control of the situation?
He might of have been one agitated Peyton.
As Manning talked, without prompting his mind turned to rookie receiver Jerry Jeudy.
“Jeudy looked good,’’ Manning said. “Looks like Emmanuel. The No. 10 kind of, his body, cuts. He’s exciting to watch. Marshall liked him. I hope the other guys on the team don’t get mad that Marshall was here scouting for Fantasy football. Said he likes Jeudy. I don’t know if that’s insider trading.”
The ever-present Peyton humor remains. In the four-plus years since he retired after helping to lead the Broncos to Super Bowl 50 in February 2016, Manning appeared to be the world’s busiest retired player.
“Lot of things I was set to do have been postponed,’’ he said. “I made up some, and then had to cancel a few again. I’ve got some makeup dates to fulfill.
“I’ve been filming season 2 of Peyton’s Places (on ESPN). I did Fran Tarkenton and Tony Gonzalez. It’s turned out to be a little more people than places this year because of COVID.’’
His first taping of Peyton’s Places this year was with Broncos general manager John Elway. The subject of the episode dealt more with Elway the Hall of Fame Broncos quarterback.
“We watched film of the ‘87 Drive together,’’
Manning said. “I enjoyed it and I could tell he did, too, because he hadn’t seen it in a long time. The snap off Watson, we talked about that.
“It’s funny because he talked about it like it was yesterday. We talked about the old Mile High and how loud it was.’’
Is Manning confident the NFL can pull off the 2020 season amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic?
“I’m hopeful,’’ he said. “We’ve seen this before, in tough times sports can be an escape. With or without fans it would be great to have it. I know the league and the teams are going to do everything they can to keep guys safe and keep guys on schedule. Whatever the version of the bubble is, is a good way to keep them.’’
As Manning and Marshall climbed into their vehicle, there was some small talk about his good friend and former receiver Brandon Stokley, followed by his nationally televised charity golf match in which he and Tiger Woods beat Tom Brady and Phil Mickelson.
“That’s the best part,’’ Manning said. “Playing with Tiger is better … it’s a little different than playing with Stokley as your partner. By far, the best partner I’ve ever had.”
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