Peyton Manning: Age is just a number

Peyton Manning knows that at age 37, he’s long in tooth and

short on time, at least by NFL standards. Yet, the annual influx of

22-year-olds who are ever-stronger, ever-fitter and ever-faster

have him feeling like a youngster himself.

They keep him on his toes, spry in body, mind and spirit.

So do the athletic trainers and the strength staff who monitor

his never-ending rehab, the new offensive coordinator who’s barking

into his ear on game day, the new position coach and his new slot

receiver extraordinaire, Wes Welker.

”Yeah, certainly I’m still learning,” Manning told The

Associated Press in an interview after practice Tuesday. ”You

still learn when you have a new offensive coordinator in Adam Gase,

a new quarterbacks coach in Greg Knapp, who’s been around football

for a while and I’m learning some of his coaching philosophies. Any

time you’re constantly learning, I think that does make you feel

young. That makes you feel like all the other players.

”Sometimes when you have a little variety, that does keep

things kind of fresh and keeps you stimulated. But football, it

doesn’t really matter how old you are or how young you are, you’re

all fighting for the same goal. And so, I love practicing every

day. I love being out there with the guys, I love hanging out in

the locker room when you have a free minute and having some laughs

but working in the weight room. So, I feel very much like one of

the guys.”

And he plays very much like he always has.

Manning had a terrific comeback last season and he looks even

better this summer. No less an expert than Hall of Famer John

Elway, who just happens to be his boss, said the ball is coming off

Manning’s hand much better than it ever did last season, when the

four-time MVP won Comeback Player of the Year after rebounding from

a series of neck injuries and surgeries that affected a nerve that

runs into his right triceps.

Manning set Broncos single-season records in nearly every major

passing category in 2012, including completions (400), completion

percentage (68.6), yards passing (4,659), TD passes (37), QB rating

(105.8) and 300-yard games (nine) after missing his final season in

Indianapolis in 2011.

Yet after leading Denver to an AFC-best 13-3 record, the

Broncos’ 11-game winning streak came crashing to a halt with a

38-35 loss to eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore on a frigid

January afternoon in the Rocky Mountains.

The Ravens and Broncos kick off the 2013 season in Denver on

Sept. 5, and in a twist, it’s the Broncos who have been getting all

the love as the trendy Super Bowl pick this season, not the

defending champions who actually got to hoist the Lombardi Trophy

back in February.

On the first day of training camp, Manning said, ”We still kind

of have a scar from losing that playoff game and I think players

need to kind of be reminded of that daily, use that to drive them,

to fuel them to make us a better team.”

Manning said Tuesday that he doesn’t think any of his teammates

have put that loss in their rearview but instead have kept it on

their dashboard, where they can see it every day and never forget

the pain of coming up short.

”You’d better have a drive. You’d better have a goal for every

season, a hunger, whatever you want to call it, a thirst, a little

fire in your belly, so I think certainly our team’s had that and

it’s about trying to go a little farther, trying to finish,”

Manning said. ”I think guys have worked hard all offseason.”

Of course, some newcomers like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or

Montee Ball weren’t here for that devastating defeat.

”Every player can have a different motivation,” Manning said.

”I’m sure some guys have had, they’d be lying if they told you

they weren’t fighting to win but also fighting to get a new

contract or I know Brandon Stokley last year wanted his son to see

him, his son was old enough to see him score a touchdown. So, there

are different motivations. And it doesn’t really matter what it is

as long as a player’s doing everything he can to do his job.”

The other day, Elway said he hopes Manning plays into his 40s.

As fit as he is, that certainly seems possible right now, but

Manning isn’t thinking beyond 2013, saying he’s ”all-in” for this

season and isn’t even thinking about anything beyond that.

That’s no different than any other year, really.

”Things happen. It’s just the way football is in today’s world.

With free agency, with injuries, with the parity in the league,

it’s hard to think too far past the current year,” Manning said.

”I think the players that are on the 2013 team are going to be

different than the players that are on the 2014 team and the 2012,

so you’d better be doing everything you can to be the best for this

team.”

Notes: With RT Orlando Franklin (hip) sitting out Tuesday, the

Broncos shuffled their O-line again. It looked like this: LT Zane

Beadles, LG Ryan Lilja, C Manny Ramirez, RG Louis Vasquez and RT

Chris Clark. Manning took the optimist’s view, saying the Broncos’

injury epidemic along the O-line has allowed the backups to get

plenty of work, ”so I think the more prepared we are, the better

we will be long-term during the season.” … Denver signed TE

Deangelo Peterson, of LSU, who spent last season on Washington’s

practice squad.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on

Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton