Prepared Peyton still on top of all details

Howard Mudd spent five decades playing or coaching in the
NFL.

He’s never been around a student such as Peyton Manning.

From the moment Indy’s franchise quarterback walked into
Anderson University’s gym in 1998, Mudd could tell this guy was
going to be different. The No. 1 pick went right to work studying
the playbook, the protections, anything to give him an edge. He
poured over film, took meticulous notes and met with teammates
regularly to discuss ideas. Heck, he wouldn’t even talk Tennessee
football because he was too busy learning the NFL game.

Manning’s thirst for knowledge never could be quenched in his
rookie season, and 12 years, one Super Bowl ring and four MVP
awards later, it still hasn’t.

”His preparation has never wavered,” said Mudd, the recently
retired Colts offensive line coach. ”Every single year, his
intensity, his preparation is exactly the same – or greater. To me,
that is his brilliance.”

Mudd understands what it takes to be successful at football’s
highest-profile job.

After coaching with six different teams and working with
quarterbacks ranging from Hall of Famers Dan Fouts and Warren Moon
to quality starters such as Bernie Kosar and even busts such as
Rick Mirer, Mudd knows some win with their physical skills, others
with their brains.

But Manning beats opponents with both because he’s rewritten the
book on preparation.

Almost anybody in the league, from Ray Lewis to Bill Belichick,
will tell you Manning cannot be fooled.

He’s seen virtually every defense, heard every defensive call
and expects his teammates to know it all, too.

That’s why last season, Manning spent each Thursday night
huddled in a film room for more than an hour with rookie receiver
Austin Collie. The goal was to make sure both saw the same things
on the field, something that paid dividends when the two hooked up
on a beautifully read 16-yard TD pass against the Jets in January’s
AFC title game.

Rookies aren’t the only ones being pulled aside.

”The first day you walk out on game week, he’s got about 14
pink post-its up and you know he’s going to pull you over and spend
15 minutes discussing what he thinks is important,” said longtime
center Jeff Saturday, a four-time Pro Bowler.

For Manning, the work never ends.

Coach Jim Caldwell, Manning’s former position coach, remembers
times during the offseason when Manning would come in and throw at
targets. Caldwell charted every throw, and it got to be a long
list.

”If he doesn’t hit it right on the spot, he’ll say hey, ‘Let’s
do that again,’ and the initial pass might have been good enough
for most people,” Caldwell said this spring.

Manning was throwing so many passes during the offseason, that
several years ago, the Colts started limiting Manning’s throws to
protect his shoulder.

But that’s the easy part of his offseason regimen.

Each spring, Manning sits down with his quarterback coach and
watches tape of every snap he took during the previous season. It’s
a grueling marathon.

”Let me put it this way, it takes months, plural. It’s a long
process,” Caldwell said. ”He has great recall, just in terms of
remembering everything that happened on that particular play, all
the peripheral things. It’s a great exercise. It really is. It’s
interesting.”

The results are more incredible.

Since 2002, when Caldwell came to Indy, Manning has led the
Colts to eight straight playoff appearances, seven consecutive
12-win seasons, two AFC titles, one Super Bowl title and won a
league record four MVP awards.

At age 34, he’s still not showing any indication of declining
skills.

Last season, Manning produced the best completion rate of his
career (68.8 percent) and threw 33 TD passes, his highest total
since breaking Dan Marino’s TD record in 2004.

Manning enters this season with 22 consecutive regular-season
wins in games he’s finished, and teammates think they know why
Manning continues to improve with each passing season.

”I’ve never been around anyone that works like this, and I
don’t know if I ever will be again,” Pro Bowl tight end Dallas
Clark said. ”He spends a lot of time preparing and that’s what
makes him so good.”

Mudd believes there’s another reason for Manning’s success – he
gets teammates in on the action and nothing is off limits.

On the game-winning drive of the 2006 AFC championship game,
Manning chuckled at first when backup tight end Bryan Fletcher, who
had only 19 catches all season, said he could beat the Patriots on
a corner route. Manning thought about it, then hooked up with
Fletcher for a 32-yard catch-and-run that took Indy to the New
England 37.

Four plays later, Joseph Addai scored the go-ahead TD run, and
Manning was headed to his first Super Bowl.

It’s the same way before and during games.

”He always like to hear your input,” Addai said. ”He’s real,
real unselfish and he always listens to other players. It’s not
ever about him, it’s always about the team.”

And getting ready for the next week.

Nobody does that better than Manning.

”He understands that not everybody can process information as
fast as he does, so he compensates for that,” Mudd said. ”He’ll
find a way to get a younger guy up to speed, and that’s where I
think his creative genius is – getting everyone up to speed.

”Bernie Kosar prepared because he knew he had to beat you with
his brain, this guy is like that and the guy in New Orleans (Drew
Brees) is that way, too. But I’ve never around a guy that’s more
prepared than Peyton.”