4 Ways the Broncos Can Shield Peyton Manning from Contact in 2012
With Broncos minicamp concluding recently and the team on a five-week break until the start of training camp in late July, the question that immediately pops into people's heads is, "How healthy is Peyton Manning?"
The word out of camp was that Manning "looked good."
According to offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, the Broncos aren't holding back with Manning.
"We're going fullspeed ahead. We're being aggressive with everything we're doing," McCoy said. "He's fine. We have no concerns right now. We're not worrying about it. We're moving forward."
Having said that, regardless of what McCoy or teammates such as Brandon Stokley have to say about Manning's neck, until Manning suits up and performs during an actual game the way he did in Indianapolis, there will continue to be skepticism.
To ensure that Manning plays a full 16-game season without any severe repercussions of his neck injury, the Broncos should utilize some tactics to minimize some of the wear-and-tear the 36-year-old quarterback is bound to endure during the course of the 2012 season.
Here are four ways the Broncos can shield Peyton Manning from contact in 2012.
Running More HB Draws
Assuming Peyton Manning can return to his usual form of efficiency, the Broncos would be well-equipped to run a number of HB draws per game to limit the amount of shots that Manning takes per game, along with establishing a productive way to utilize the running backs in taking advantage of the threat that Manning is as a passer.
In Indianapolis—especially in the years after Edgerrin James left—the Colts were always a below-average rushing team, even finishing near the bottom of the league in three separate years in between the '06-'10 seasons.
In order to offset the lack of productivity and skill of the Colts running backs, Indianapolis often ran many delayed HB draws to occasional success.
In Denver, with a better stable of running backs in Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno, Lance Ball and the newly-drafted Ronnie Hillman, there is no reason to believe that Denver can't have more success with the HB Draw.
After all, Denver was the league's best rushing team in 2011.
Run More HB Screens
This sort of goes hand-in-hand with the previous slide of "more HB draws." This once again relates to the usage of the halfback, except in this case, you're utilizing the halfback in the sense of the passing game.
If you want to minimize Manning's risk of injury, negating the chances of him being knocked on his rear by a 300-pound lineman would work well with the idea of the usage of the HB screen in the playbook.
With McGahee nearing the age of 31, and never having been a true effective pass catcher out of the backfield, the Broncos can utilize either Moreno, Ball or Hillman on obvious passing downs.
This not only reduces the wear-and-tear of Manning—it reduces the wear-and-tear of McGahee by limiting his reps in situations where he'd be better off on the sidelines.
For all of Moreno's weaknesses, he remains a strong receiving threat out of the backfield.
Due to the acquisition of Manning, perhaps Moreno can find a role within this team to utilize his strong penchant for blocking and receiving—despite his weaknesses as a runner.
Both Ball and Hillman are proven versatile running backs.
The additions of the screen and the draw will limit Manning's chances of injury, along with increasing the producing of Denver's quartet of running backs.
More Pass Plays for the Tight End
Throughout Manning's years in Indianapolis, the tight end was always a focal part of the offense.
In the first few years, it was guys like Marcus Pollard and Ken Dilger catching passes from the future four-time NFL MVP.
A couple of years later, it was Dallas Clark who emerged as one of the league's top receiving tight ends with the help of Peyton.
Hell, even former Colt and current Bronco Jacob Tamme caught 67 passes from Peyton in 2010 after Clark went down with a season-ending injury.
The Broncos have a stable of tight ends capable of catching the football in Tamme, Joel Dreessen and Julius Thomas.
If Peyton is to utilize the tight end as his first read frequently in passing situations, the ball will come out with such quickness that defenses will be unable to react quick enough to not only force pressure on Manning, but to stop the success of the QB-to-TE combination.
Does this sound eerily familiar to how Peyton ran his offense in Indianapolis? That's because it is.
Putting the Slot Receiver to Work
In the previous slide, the usage of the tight ends was mentioned.
In all of the previous slides, tendencies of the old Colts offense led by Manning were mentioned.
In staying true to form, this slide maintains yet another facet of the Colts offense put to work.
The slot receiver as a featured weapon.
Throughout the years, Manning has made previously unknown and unheralded receivers look good in the slot receiver position. Guys such as current Bronco Brandon Stokley, Austin Collie and Blair White.
If the same remains true in Denver, Manning will be using his slot receivers on short-to-intermediate routes over the middle of the field. By doing so, the ball comes out quicker and requires less follow-through when passing the football in comparison to throwing the football to the sidelines to your top two receivers.
Because the ball comes out quicker and it requires less follow-through to throw over the middle of the field once you make your five-step drop, less hits on the quarterback will be the result.
Whether the slot receiver is Andre Caldwell, Brandon Stokley or some unknown on Denver's roster, by utilizing the slot receiver, it will preserve Manning's health.