Rested and getting ready, Manning kicks off 2013

The arm: rested. The receiving corps: restocked.

Peyton Manning returned to Broncos headquarters Monday, starting

voluntary workouts with his group of receivers, which now includes

Wes Welker, formerly the top target for Tom Brady and the New

England Patriots.

The 37-year-old quarterback was working with a few of his

teammates a week ago at Duke, where the quarterback’s former

college coach, David Cutcliffe, ran a mini-camp of sorts with

Manning, his brother, Eli, and an assortment of Broncos and Giants

receivers.

After taking two months away from football – about a month more

than he’d hoped for – Manning, like any quarterback, was happy to

have given his arm a rest. But, he said, it’s hard to gauge the way

he feels this spring compared to last. He conceded he isn’t sure if

he’ll ever get back to where he was before the neck surgeries that

cost him the 2011 season.

”Whether that’s possible or not, I’m probably never going to

know the answer until I stop playing,” Manning said. ”I’m never

going to stop trying to get back to that point. I actually made

some improvements since last year but still have a plan with the

trainers, a plan with the strength coaches.”

As last year progressed, Manning declared himself fit enough for

NFL action – both with his words and his play on the field, where

he threw for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns, both the second-best

totals in his career.

His final game, in the playoffs against Baltimore, wasn’t one of

his best, however.

In 13-degree weather, Manning threw two interceptions, lost a

fumble and fell to 0-4 lifetime when starting games where the

temperature was 40 degrees or less. As the season progressed, he

admitted that the feeling in his throwing hand hadn’t fully

returned. He wore an orange-and-gray glove to try to help him with

his grip.

But as much as he practiced with the glove, he acknowledged

there wasn’t much he could do to simulate a real-life situation in

the freezing cold. It hasn’t gone unnoticed that this season’s

Super Bowl will take place outdoors in New York. It also didn’t go

unnoticed that his first week of 2013 workouts in Denver were

greeted by temperatures in the 30s and a spring snowstorm bearing

down.

Good practice for Manning, one of the most meticulously prepared

quarterbacks in the game. Figuring out the timing with receivers

under all conditions, good and bad, is a full-time job, not simply

one that starts and ends during ”football season.” He knows it

won’t be easy to replicate what Brady and Welker built over six

years in a matter of months.

”Every repetition with him will be important,” Manning said.

”Certainly, I think he provides some unique things. He’s got

unbelievable quickness, he’s excellent with the ball in his hands

on those screen passes. You’ve seen him getting upfield quickly and

I’ve always felt he’s had a nose for the end zone.”

Manning said he can tell Broncos Vice President John Elway is

trying to create an ”uncomfortable atmosphere” for a team that

went 13-3 last year but was dumped out of the playoffs by Baltimore

in the divisional round.

”Last year was good but it wasn’t great. And we’re looking for

a great season,” Manning said, nearly echoing the words of both

Elway and Broncos owner Pat Bowlen in the aftermath of the

Baltimore loss.

In addition to Welker, Elway signed guard Louis Vasquez to shore

up the offensive line. He also went after cornerback Dominique

Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive lineman Terrance Knighton and

linebacker Stewart Bradley. All pieces of a puzzle, with designs on

helping this team – with an aging-but-talented core – take the

final step.

”You lose at the end of the season, you want to find ways to

get better, period, whatever it takes,” said cornerback Champ

Bailey, heading into his 15th season.

Denver lost defensive lineman Elvis Dumervil in a bizarre

deadline-fueled fax foul-up. Meanwhile, Welker’s addition means

it’s less likely that one of Manning’s favorite teammates, Brandon

Stokley, will return, though the quarterback wasn’t completely

giving up on that.

”I hope it’s not necessarily a closed-door discussion,”

Manning said.

Regardless, Manning’s receiving corps figures to be one of the

most dangerous in the league. Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas each

had breakout years last season, Thomas with 1,434 yards and Decker

with 1,064. Both are heading into their fourth year as pros. Both

figure to benefit from having Welker there to occupy defenses.

Manning needs to take advantage of the situation sooner rather than

later – a reality he’s very much in touch with as he enters his

16th NFL season.

”I’ll be long out of eligibility by the time these guys really

hit the peak of their careers because they’re both young players,”

Manning said. ”But I’ve really enjoyed working with them and

seeing them develop, and both of them got better last year. And

both can be even better this year, I believe.”