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

him.

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

Ball.

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

empty backfield.

”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

the ball.”

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

quarterback.

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

stop myself.”

Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton on Twitter:

http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and

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