Colts' Manning not ready to put timetable on return to practice

INDIANAPOLIS -- While Colts quarterback Peyton Manning remains unwilling to discuss his future in Indianapolis or the 2012 NFL Draft, he was more than pleased Friday to disclose some encouraging information about the rehabilitation of his Sept. 8 neck surgery: It's making progress.

Speaking at his locker with a much-anticipated update, Manning said the next phase of the process will include throwing passes -- and possibly even practicing -- although he still is working through the exact specifications of this second step to a full recovery.

"I still do believe that practice is a great avenue to answer some questions to see where you are, and we'll make that determination in this next phase," Manning said. "If that's good, I'd like to do that. If it's better to keep rehabbing in a private setting, it's whatever (the doctor and team trainer) thinks is best.

"Is (practice) what I'd like to do? Yes. But I'd also like to play Sunday."

Perhaps most critical for his long-term path back to action, it's particularly good news that Manning's neck indeed has fused. Manning, 35, underwent a spinal fusion nearly three months ago to repair nerve damage in his neck, which led to weakness when throwing -- but there has been no guarantee that the risky procedure would be a success.

One month ago, Manning said this week would be a good checkpoint to see if his surgery was moving in the right direction. His doctor, Robert Watkins, was able to provide at least that vote of confidence Wednesday, which will allow Manning to move forward with the recovery.

"It'll be nice having a little more freedom to do some normal weight-lifting activities, on-the-field activities, things that you're normally used to doing," Manning said. "It's good because that means we've done what we're supposed to do these past three months.

"It doesn't guarantee anything in this next phase. It does allow you to step into that phase. The worst news we could have heard was, 'Hey, you're still not where you want to be and you've got to keep doing what you've been doing.' He did clear me for the next phase, and I'll follow that as well as I can."

Manning was adamant about the lack of an exact timeline when it comes to the next stage. Not until he gets out onto the practice field will he know how his body will respond.

"I really have been in a three-month holding pattern," Manning said. "I have some questions I want to answer myself during this next phase.

"There has been no timetable. I'll get some of those questions answered. I'll do a little more, see how I respond. You've got to see if you have any pain, any soreness, any drawbacks. Those are things I have to learn for myself."

So when will Manning practice? He doesn't know. Might he play this season? He doesn't know. Does he have thoughts about the 2012 Draft or his future in Indianapolis? He doesn't see it fit to discuss the future at this point.

Instead, Friday was about the present. And Manning's ability to begin ramping up his rehabilitation with more throwing and more on-field activities was good enough news for now.

"This was a good sign that the fusion took," Manning said. "I meet a lot of people who have had fusions, and it's good to be a part of that club, because there are instances when it doesn't take. I had an unstable neck, and this means that it's stable.

"That was comforting, just from the health side of it. That was encouraging."

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @JeffDarlington.