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Manning ready for first preseason cameo

Broncos open slate Thursday

Peyton Manning will see his first game action since the Pro Bowl in January of 2011 when the Broncos head to Soldier Field in Chicago to open the preseason against the Bears on Thursday. Enlarge photo

Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

Peyton Manning will see his first game action since the Pro Bowl in January of 2011 when the Broncos head to Soldier Field in Chicago to open the preseason against the Bears on Thursday.

ENGLEWOOD – Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos are treating their visit to Chicago on Thursday night just like any other preseason opener.

Only, it isn’t.

This marks the four-time MVP’s first game of any sort since Jan. 30, 2011, when he went 2-for-5 for 12 yards and an interception in the AFC’s 55-41 loss to the NFC in the Pro Bowl.

“I think he’s anxious to get in there, just like all of our starters,” head coach John Fox said Tuesday.

Anybody who wants to see Manning’s first game in 18 months had better tune in early because he won’t have much more than a cameo appearance at Soldier Field.

“Well, we don’t get into how much we’re going to do, but we’ll approach it much like any first preseason games,” Fox said. “Our first unit will go the first quarter – about – and the seconds will go the second and third quarters, and the third will finish out the fourth quarter.”

That’s fine with Manning.

“We’d like to get a drive or two going,” Manning said. “I’ve always said you love to get a bit of everything in the preseason if you can. You love to get some short-yardage work, some third-down conversions; you’d love to get some red zone, goal line. In all four games, if you can get all the situations that we work on out here, that would be ideal.

“So, however long we play, or whatever Coach Fox wants to do, we’re good with. We just need to play well when we’re out there.”

Manning missed all of last season with a nerve injury in his neck that weakened his throwing arm and led to his tearful release from the Indianapolis Colts that set off the biggest free agent frenzy in NFL history. He landed in Denver and hasn’t looked back.

Throughout offseason workouts, minicamp and training camp with the Broncos, Manning has had plenty of zip on his passes, and he’s been as accurate and cerebral as ever.

Even Tuesday, when he had his share of incompletions against an ever-improving, first-string defense, Manning was sharp in his decisions.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Manning said when asked if it was a frustrating day at practice. “Every day, you’re trying to get better. Certainly, there’s always some things you can improve on.”

Although his fused neck actually is stronger than it was pre-surgery, the next big mile marker in Manning’s comeback is bouncing back from that first big hit.

Manning said he has no doubt he is ready to absorb it, although the Broncos aren’t exactly eager to get that blast behind them.

“Well, you never want to see your guy the one being hit regardless of position,” Fox said. “But it’s all part of the game. I think he’s definitely preparing himself, and we’ll see how it goes Thursday night.”

Manning has spent the last five months learning his new teammates and working on timing with his new targets, but he is eager to see who steps up in the preseason.

“The lights have not been on yet,” Manning said. “We’ve had practices, we had the scrimmage Saturday, which was a game-like atmosphere, but going against a different opponent on Thursday” will provide a better gauge.

“So it’s serious business out there on Thursday. There’s jobs being competed for, there’s jobs that people are trying to keep. That’s where all of us have something to play for,” he added. “Sure, you want to win the game, but everybody’s competing, trying to do their jobs well.”