Exactly what will be expected of Peyton Manning in his return to the NFL after a season’s absence?
Not a great deal.
There’s no precise number of snaps that he’ll take tonight in his first game with his new team after missing the 2011 season with multiple neck procedures. The goal is helping him find a comfort zone.
“Let him get comfortable with his system,” Denver Broncos Coach John Fox told NFL.com. “He reminded me Saturday, we had 40,000 people at this scrimmage, I asked him, ‘How do you feel?’ He goes, ‘Weird.’
“I look back, last year was my first year in this place after being nine years in another place [Carolina] and it is weird. So it's just him getting more comfortable. This is a pretty good situation for him, but it's still the first time. So getting him comfortable is probably the biggest thing.”
Which means that, against the Chicago Bears, Manning is likely to be in for one series if it’s lengthy, two if the first is three-and-out. Pretty typical procedure for preseason games.
“It's going to come down to how much our first offensive line plays,” John Elway, the Broncos’ executive vice-president for football operations and a Hall of Fame quarterback, said. “I asked him the other day, ‘One or two series?’ I think you get a feel for it during the game. If things go well right off the bat, have a nice scoring drive, then get him out.
“You want to get something going to where they have a good drive. You don't want to have three three-and-outs. You want to get some confidence, get some first downs, and maybe put some points on the board. If we do that, get him out.”
The biggest moment for Manning, whether it comes tonight or in another game, will be the first big hit. That may not come for a while, because Manning is particularly adept at avoiding sacks.
“I'm not afraid about him getting hit. I'm really not. Everybody's worried about whether he can take a hit or not, he wouldn't be on that football field if he couldn't take a hit. If our doctors were worried, we wouldn't have done anything on him a long time ago,” Elway said. “I want to see him get out there, get the rust off, complete a couple balls, and see how everyone reacts underneath the pressure and how we can do some different things and getting him under the bullets to where some things we do at the line of scrimmage, if he wants to change some things around and how we react to it.”
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