Sports

Manning on his way to Broncos

Less than two weeks after he was released by the Indianapolis Colts, future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning signed with the Denver Broncos. Manning chose the Broncos over the Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans, and San Francisco 49ers — all teams he had visited during the “Manning Free Agent Tour.”

The Denver front office and coaching staff were some of the main selling points for Manning. With former Broncos Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway leading the front office and experienced head coach John Fox directing the team, the Broncos’ management is both quarterback-friendly and experienced in the NFL.

The Broncos also have a much better supporting cast than the Colts have had over the past few years. Denver has a young, top-tier defense headed by linebackers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, who carried the team to the playoffs last year, and good receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.

The Broncos will also be returning most of their league-leading rushing attack led by running backs Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee.

Adjusting to the Broncos will be a challenge for Manning. This will be the first time in his professional career that his home stadium is not a dome and is wide open to the elements. For Manning, who forces the offensive play calling to pass first and uses the running game as a change of pace, the weather can potentially grind his offense to a halt.

There is also the issue of altitude. Aside from the effects on the actual football, the altitude change makes it harder for Manning and his teammates to catch their breath. He frequently used to hurry the offense in Indianapolis as a way to tire out the defense and to stop them from resetting after each play. With this altitude, Manning may be forced to slow down his offense so the larger offensive linemen have time to recover in between plays.

Manning may also have trouble adapting to some of the key role players around him. With the addition of Manning, the Broncos are switching from the running spread attack they used last year under starting quarterback Tim Tebow — who has since been traded to the New York Jets — to a much more pass-heavy offense.

Because of this transition, many players’ roles are changing dramatically. Tight ends in last year’s offensive scheme would focus on blocking first, with running routes and catching passes as afterthoughts. But with Manning under center, the Broncos’ tight ends are expected to be more like wide receivers than offensive linemen. To ease this transition, the Broncos have acquired former Colts back-up tight end Jacob Tamme who, due to injuries to starter Dallas Clark, has developed a very good rapport with Manning.

The biggest challenge for Manning will ultimately be his health.

While it is true that he was one of the best quarterbacks in Indianapolis, he is coming back from four neck surgeries. The team obviously believes he is at least close to his previous level of play, but the risk is still there.

The Broncos have a lot more riding on Manning than just money. Even though their contract with Manning has health contingencies, the Broncos will still be in serious trouble if he goes down. They do not have a competent backup yet, and they still need a quarterback for when 36-year-old Manning inevitably retires.

The partnership of Manning and the Broncos is not without risks, but both sides seem to think the possible rewards outweigh them.

There will be high expectations of playoff successes, and any struggles will have Broncos fans enraged about the swap of winning, fan-favorite Tebow for Manning.