Peyton Manning has a reputation as a control freak, so the first thing he told his new Denver Broncos coaches when it was time to go to work might surprise you.
Truth is, it probably wasn't wholly expected in Denver, either.
"The great thing is from Day 1, his first time out here, he said to us, 'Hey, I wanna learn your system,' " Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said Tuesday, after wrapping up the club's second day of OTAs. "He said that he knew we'd had success, our receivers had success, in that system before we changed some things around last year, and he wanted us to teach it to him."
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But no matter how diplomatic the new quarterback might have been in this case, it can't be overlooked that he did spend more than a decade of controlling every check and shift in Indianapolis. To be sure, the Denver offense will not look the same as it did under Kyle Orton in McCoy's first two and a half years with the Broncos. And it sure as heck won't resemble what Tim Tebow was running late last fall and into the winter.
And that's why this pairing, on its face anyway, looks perfect. Manning wants to carry out McCoy's vision, and that vision happens to be evolving to where Manning has the best chance to succeed.
"You look at the zone-read (option) last year with Tim," McCoy said. "We did a nice job with it, so we just kept running it. And we got to the point where we were comfortable running it from any point on the field. It'll be the same thing with Peyton. There are certain things we'll do well with him, and maybe things we don't do as well, and we'll keep doing what we're doing well."
That flexibility, in fact, is a big part of what attracted Manning to the Rockies in the first place. Yes, he liked the charisma of John Fox, the plan of John Elway, and even the presence of buddies in (Brandon Stokley) and out of football (Todd Helton) in the area. But as it related to the game itself, between the lines, the adaptability McCoy showed in his first three years in Denver was as valuable a recruiting tool as anything Fox and Elway had.
The offensive coordinator spent 2009 and 2010 helping Orton throw for 7,455 yards and 41 touchdowns in 29 games. Then, in effect, he melded Urban Meyer's scheme with his own in 2011, as Tebow won seven of his first eight starts and the Broncos captured a division title. That demonstrates McCoy's malleability as a play-caller and designer, and illustrates the reason why he and quarterbacks coach Adam Gase wasted no time preparing for Manning's arrival -- starting before it was even a certainty that No. 18 was coming.
"That goes back to when we first talked about going and getting Peyton," McCoy explained. "From when we first talked to him, Adam and I watched a ton of film, studied what they did there (in Indianapolis), the way he played. We didn't always know exactly where they were coming from, but we took notes, and when we signed him, I said, 'Here's some things we have for you, and we'd like to add to it.' It's gonna grow as we figure it out, and it's getting back to some of those core fundamentals."
Conversely, Manning has continued to remind the coaches that, as McCoy recounts the quarterback saying repeatedly, "Listen, I want to do new things, I want to learn."
Part of it is learning the system. The Broncos have an idea of what the offense will look like, but it'll keep evolving through the spring and training camp and into the season.
Part of it is learning the people. Manning had the kind of rapport with players like Marvin Harrison, Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne that won't be easy to recreate with Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas.
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But, quick reminder: It's Peyton Manning we're talking about. And as long as he's OK physically -- McCoy wouldn't comment on specifics, other than to say "He looks fine to me" -- that simple, easy-to-forget fact should erase most questions about his ability to assimilate.
"Football's always football," McCoy said. "We laugh about that, because it's not that complicated. Every Monday, we call it 'Thievery Night,' you look at the touchdowns and explosive plays, see that stuff week-to-week, and see who's doing what, and take what you can. Football's still football. Everyone's running the same plays, and it's a matter of some running one concept more than another team is. It all boils down to the same thing."
Football also happens to be a game that Manning's always been pretty good at. He's 36 now, and until he has a post-neck-surgeries body of work to go on, some doubt will linger. One of his teammates texted me on Tuesday that No. 18 is slinging it "like the old days." Game day will be the litmus test.
But to this point, the new Broncos quarterback -- taking a baton that went from the legendary Elway to Brian Griese to Jake Plummer to a pair of since-traded former first-round picks in Jay Cutler and Tebow (with Orton in between) -- hasn't come as advertised. He's been even better than that.
While the real analysis of this marriage will be based on how Manning plays, he understands, as McCoy says, it's "about figuring out what's best for the football team. Everyone says, 'Peyton, Peyton, Peyton,' but we have to build an offense for Demaryius and Eric and everyone else, too." And as he learns, his presence has made all the difference at Dove Valley.
"The great thing for the organization and the young players is they get to see the way it's supposed to be done," McCoy said. "The young quarterbacks are going to benefit so much from this -- they see that this is the right way. Eric and Demaryius, they see it. Peyton holds everyone accountable, and he's the hardest guy on himself. It's detailed and it's done right. We can preach what we want as coaches, but leaders do it the right way, it carries that much more weight."
And if, in this case, the right way isn't exactly the way he's had it for the past 14 years, well then, it seems like Manning is just fine with that, too.