ENGLEWOOD What Tom Moore saw this week was oh, so familiar. Short or long, the throws were potent and precise, smacking sternums with both authority and a loud thwack.
Peyton Manning is most certainly back.
The Denver Broncos wrapped up their three-day minicamp that capped their offseason work Thursday with another spirited practice marked by precision and power from their new 36-year-old quarterback.
On hand as a guest all week was Moore, Mannings offensive coordinator for all but one season when the two were in Indianapolis.
Watching these three days, he looked excellent to me, Moore said.
Manning has shown no ill effects of the nerve issue that caused weakness in his throwing arm last year, required four neck operations, forced him to miss the entire 2011 season and led to his release from the Colts.
The biggest free agent in NFL history looks better and better every day as he regains strength and adjusts to his new team.
We dont think about the injury anymore, said receiver Brandon Stokley, who played with Manning in Indianapolis. And Im not sure he does, either.
The Broncos took a chance by signing the leagues only four-time MVP to a five-year, $96-million deal in March, and with offseason on-field work out of the way and training camp seven weeks away, all indications are theyre getting the Peyton Manning of old.
Manning said he wishes he could have tripled the 13 offseason practices they were allowed to hold, but he cherished the time nonetheless.
Over the last two months, hes shown both himself and John Elway, who recruited him to this quarterback-crazed town, that he still has plenty left in his right arm that has thrown for 54,828 yards and 399 touchdowns and hoisted a Super Bowl trophy.
Manning averaged 42 passes a game in his last full season in 2010, but the Broncos dont plan on having him air it out that much. Theyre meshing some of the power formations they used in leading the league in rushing last year with some of the spread formations that Manning was accustomed to running in Indianapolis.
The reconstruction of both quarterback and offense appears to be going very well, indeed. Manning has given the Broncos no reason to hold back once training camp rolls around, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said.
Were going full speed ahead. Were being aggressive with everything were doing, McCoy said. Hes fine. We have no concerns right now. Were not worrying about it. Were moving forward.
With his arm strength not really an issue, the question facing Manning is whether he can get his timing down with his new targets.
Theres lots of things that enter into it, obviously: accuracy, anticipation, touch, arm strength; you know, its an all-involved thing, Moore said. He looks good. He looks excellent.
Manning is loath to declare himself injury-free, insisting he has much work to do in his rehab just as he does in preparing for the 2012 season.
You dont really expect him to say anything else, Stokley said. Thats just kind of his persona; its all about work every day, trying to get better. No matter if hes having one of his best years ever as a quarterback. Even during his MVP years, hes still saying the same stuff: Just trying to get better every day.
Moore said Mannings well-known work ethic is what will push him through this season.
Nobody works harder than him, Moore said. On anything. Anything. I mean, his work habits are fantastic. Hell be successful his entire life at whatever he does. Because of his work ethic and his dedication and his commitment to what hes doing.
When he was asked this week whether the Broncos had the potential to be as potent as the Colts were under his stewardship, Manning demurred.
Im not doing the comparison game to the other offenses, he said. I think what were trying to do right now is form our identity. And I dont think that necessarily happens over (13) practices in May and June. I do think over training camp and into the preseason, I think hopefully well get a feel for the things that we really do well.
Even if Mannings right arm isnt 100 percent this season, his mind is, Stokley said, noting that while hes never had the strongest arm, nobody can decipher a defense and pick it apart like Manning.
Mannings arrival has had its anticipated ripple effect on both the offense and defense, and most of the six practices the media were allowed to watch were crisp. If anything, Mannings throws were sometimes too strong, sailing over his receivers heads.
Stokley said Manning is the ultimate leader because everybody around him gets better. He saw it in Indy, and hes witnessing it now in Denver.
Whatever he asks, guys will do, because theyve seen what it can lead to. It can lead to great things for teams and individuals, Stokley said. Theres no questioning him. Its not phony with him. You see it firsthand, how hard he works, how hard he prepares.
And its by far more and harder than anybody thats ever played this game. Theres no question in my mind that nobody else has even come close to putting in the kind of effort and work that hes put into the NFL.