ENGLEWOOD Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos are treating their visit to Chicago on Thursday night just like any other preseason opener.
Only, it isnt.
This marks the four-time MVPs first game of any sort since Jan. 30, 2011, when he went 2-for-5 for 12 yards and an interception in the AFCs 55-41 loss to the NFC in the Pro Bowl.
I think hes anxious to get in there, just like all of our starters, head coach John Fox said Tuesday.
Anybody who wants to see Mannings first game in 18 months had better tune in early because he wont have much more than a cameo appearance at Soldier Field.
Well, we dont get into how much were going to do, but well 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.
Thats fine with Manning.
Wed like to get a drive or two going, Manning said. Ive 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; youd 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, were good with. We just need to play well when were 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 hasnt looked back.
Throughout offseason workouts, minicamp and training camp with the Broncos, Manning has had plenty of zip on his passes, and hes 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 wouldnt say that, Manning said when asked if it was a frustrating day at practice. Every day, youre trying to get better. Certainly, theres 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 Mannings comeback is bouncing back from that first big hit.
Manning said he has no doubt he is ready to absorb it, although the Broncos arent 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 its all part of the game. I think hes definitely preparing himself, and well 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. Weve 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 its serious business out there on Thursday. Theres jobs being competed for, theres jobs that people are trying to keep. Thats where all of us have something to play for, he added. Sure, you want to win the game, but everybodys competing, trying to do their jobs well.