His passes were hitting receivers in stride and right between the numbers, not skipping off the ground or whizzing behind their heads like so many of Tim Tebows.
The Denver Broncos got their first real taste of Peyton Manning on Monday with a spirited, fast-paced workout, the four-time MVPs first full practice in more than 16 months.
It felt good to be out there. Its been a while for me, Manning said. Its been about a year-and-a-half since Ive been in uniform, been in an organized practice. So it felt good to be out there. And it will be a good film to study.
Monday also was the first chance for the media to get a look at the progress Manning has made since a series of neck operations sidelined him all of last season and led to his release from the Indianapolis Colts.
And Manning looked great, showing zip and accuracy on his passes, comfort under center, complete command of his offense and no ill effects from the nerve injury that caused weakness in his throwing arm.
Man, it feels good to know hes going to be on my side because what I saw (Monday), hes going to give us some good work, star cornerback Champ Bailey said. And we might not see a quarterback like that all year.
Manning became the most prized free agent in NFL history following his release from the Colts after 14 seasons. His signing in Denver led to Tebows trade to the New York Jets, despite a thrilling run to the playoffs guided by the younger QB.
The Broncos and a handful of other suitors watched Manning throw during his whirlwind free agency tour in March, but before Monday, reporters had to rely on his receivers for updates on his progress. Manning had refused to talk about it.
Well, you guys got to see him (Monday), tight end Jacob Tamme said.
And he looked like the Manning of old. His throws, most of which were intermediate, were strong and on target. His only deep pass was true, too, hitting Matthew Willis in stride before being broken up by cornerback Tracy Porter at the goal line.
Watching his pinpoint passes zip around Dove Valley, one never would have guessed hed been forced to take a sabbatical and go under the scalpel multiple times since his last game, a wild-card playoff loss to the Jets in January of 2011.
Oh, no. Absolutely not, Bailey said. You know, its not live, but from what I see right now, the guy hasnt missed a beat.
Coach John Fox said Mannings getting better every day.
And so are the Broncos, on account of Mannings presence.
He definitely raises all boats, thats for sure, and thats not just with the young players, (but also) the veterans, Fox said. Were excited where that is and whats hes done to raise those boats.
Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas and the other young receivers all have been refining their route-running so as not to endure Mannings famous wrath.
Well, I think theyre on their way, Bailey said. Obviously, I want to help them as much as possible, try to sharpen their routes up and things like that, but one thing about them is they get open a little bit, theyre open a lot to him. Thats one thing thats a big difference this year.
Manning wouldnt gauge the progress hes made in his two months in Denver, first during private workouts at local high schools and then at the teams training facility.
Its hard to say. I try to get better every day, you know, thats my goal, and I really need to use this time, he said. I do think theres a difference when you are on the field in helmets going up against a defense. Up until now, we hadnt been able to go against a defense. So, this will be great work for me going against Champ Bailey and Von Miller and Elvis (Dumervil) and (Tracy) Porter, Drayton Florence.
Weve got three great cover corners to work against. So until now weve been kind of throwing passes versus air, and you can work on your timing with receivers, but its a great test to go against these corners.
Manning clearly is more concerned about ironing out the wrinkles in his new offense than what fans seem to be harping on: his health status.
Ive always believed you develop your timing for your passing game in the offseason, I dont think you can just show up in September and expect to be on the same page, Manning said. So what a great opportunity for these receivers going against these corners. I mean, if you cant get better going against some of these top cover corners, then its just not meant to be. So its a great challenge for everybody.
Monday marked one signpost. Up ahead is putting on the shoulder pads, training camp, taking that first hit in the preseason.
Theres no question its a different mentality for me in these OTAs than it has been in other years because of all the changes, Manning said. But I look forward to the challenge, and I just cant tell you how important these OTAs are. I think theyre important for everybody. But when youre a new player, on a new team, certainly coming off an injury, I think they certainly take added importance, and I thought (Monday) was an excellent start.