Broncos, Manning meet halfway to build new offense
Peyton Manning’s longest pass play of the preseason didn’t go to
one of his towering tight ends or his mammoth wide receivers.
Running back Lance Ball, who packs 215 pounds into his 5-foot-9
frame, lined up wide to the right across from a San Francisco 49ers
linebacker and hauled in a 38-yard pass that set up Manning’s first
TD throw in orange and blue.
”That was a nice route by him,” Manning said. ”He has shown
that ability to run routes like a receiver out of the backfield.
Hopefully that’s another weapon we can take advantage of if he gets
a linebacker or a safety out on him.”
Ball played briefly in Indianapolis in 2008, so his history with
Manning goes back a little ways, and he knows that if he can get
open, the ball will be headed his way.
”I think as a running back that gives us another option out
there,” said Ball, who bruised his ribs on the big catch. ”We’re
just not dummies out there when we split out wide.”
It was the latest example of the hybrid offense the Broncos (No.
10 in the AP Pro32) have installed since signing the four-time MVP
in March, which spelled the end of the throwback read-option
experiment under Tim Tebow.
Manning told his new coaches he wasn’t interested in lugging the
Colts’ playbook from Indianapolis, offering instead to fit into the
Broncos’ system just as much as they’d tailor the offense around
By meeting offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and quarterbacks
coach Adam Gase halfway, Manning has more options at his disposal
for his 2012 comeback tour than he did in his 14 seasons in Indy,
which came to an end after he missed all of last season with a
nerve injury that weakened his throwing arm.
”Everybody thinks that because Peyton is here we’re changing
everything,” McCoy said. ”But we have a system in place and
that’s the first thing Peyton said when he came here was, `Hey
listen, I want to learn your system.’ So, there’s plenty of other
players here who we had to take into consideration as we’re
building this offense.”
The Broncos are a blend of the power formations they used in
leading the league in rushing last year with Tebow and some of the
spread formations that Manning ran in Indianapolis.
A new twist for the 36-year-old quarterback is the presence of
fullback Chris Gronkowski, which means Manning will run at times a
two-back offense for the first time in his career. He’ll also have
rookie running back Ronnie Hillman, who’s in the mold of Darren
Sproles, to provide a change-of-pace to Willis McGahee and
In Manning’s final tuneup for the regular season Sunday, the
Broncos lined up in four- and five-receiver sets, two-tight end
sets, ran the no-huddle at altitude, ran the conventional huddle,
lined up Gronkowski and other times went with a one-back set or an
”That’s what this preseason is for. You want to win the game
but you want to get a look at different players,” Manning said.
”Gronkowski at fullback, look at Lance Ball out at wide receiver
out of the backfield. I’m not sure if they accomplished everything
the coaches wanted to accomplish, but we knew we were going to mix
our personnel groupings today.
”No matter what grouping we were in, we showed we could move
It was good for defensive coordinators to catch a glimpse of the
Broncos’ blended offense, although Denver didn’t reveal much
besides its newfound versatility.
Opponents won’t have much film to analyze at first. They can
pretty much scrap the final 13 games the Broncos played last year
with Tebow under center, and it won’t do much good to review the
first five games of last season, either, when Kyle Orton was the
If they look at Manning’s 2010 season in Indy, it will bear only
some resemblance to this year’s version in Denver.
So, for a while, Manning will have the element of surprise on
his side as he embarks on his comeback from the nerve issue that
weakened his right triceps and required four neck operations,
including a fusion in September.
Manning staked Denver to a 17-0 lead in less than a quarter of
work Sunday, then watched his backups fritter away the lead in a
29-24 loss to the Niners (No. 4, AP Pro32).
Coach John Fox was so pleased with Manning’s play, he took him
out after less than a quarter of work.
”I’ve seen steady improvement since he got here and that’s a
tribute to him, his work ethic, his offensive coaches, his
teammates,” Fox said. ”For being a first-year guy, to come in and
learn an offense and execute an offense with the precision he has
is pretty good.”
Manning threw his first two TD passes as a Bronco and led Denver
to scores on all three of his drives, diagnosing the defense at the
line of scrimmage just as if he’s always done.
”I think he knew what we were going to do before the snap even
happened,” 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks said.
Notes: The Broncos placed DE Jason Hunter on IR with a torn
right triceps that required surgery. … DT Kevin Vickerson had a
pair of tackles after missing the previous preseason game with a
concussion. ”I’m A-1, I’m good to go,” Vickerson said. … WR
Eric Decker on his version of the Lambeau Leap after his second TD
catch from Manning: ”I couldn’t slow down, so I had to jump and
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Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and