Record numbers of fans showed up in orange and blue and crammed the Dove Valley faclities for training camp this year, not only to see their first glimpse of the 2012 Broncos, but to see Peyton Manning.
Manning went through training camp with a magnifying glass on him and reporters and analysts critiquing his every move and throw. After almost two weeks of training camp, let's examine what we've learned so far about Manning.
His Arm Strength is Back
On the first day of training camp, Manning breezed through a 2.5-hour practice. Manning has been consistently hitting wide receivers and converting passes, especially in the red zone. The velocity and speed of his throws indicate that his rehabilitation is going well and his shoulder is almost healed. Although he is not getting hit in training camp, Manning's arm movements and speed look great.
The true test will be when the regular season starts and he takes his first NFL hit in 18 months.
He Clicks with Decker, Thomas
Many pinned Eric Decker to be Manning's early WR favorite because of their NFL past together. This proved true, with Manning completing the majority of his passes to Decker during training camp. When Decker went down with a groin strain, Manning began to click with Demaryius Thomas. Thomas made several big catches last week, impressing Manning.
"But I thought Demaryius these last two days has really made some big plays, he's done some good things with the ball after the catch, which is what we're going to need," Manning told the AP Thursday. Hopefully this early chemistry will translate to the field once the regular season starts. Between Decker's explosiveness and Thomas' speed, Manning has two great wide receivers to pass to on every play.
He Brings Excitement to Players and Fans
The Dove Valley facility holds 4,200 and when training camp opened to the public last Thursday, some fans were turned away because of overcrowding. Parking lots were full of tents and campers the night before. Over 35,000 fans attended the scrimmage.
The 2012 football season is guaranteed to be different with Manning on board. Fans and players are excited to be at training camp and anxious for the season to start. Analysts say the Broncos have a chance at winning nine or more games, and even a Super Bowl. "I mean, I've always been confident, but it does help when you have a four-time MVP as your quarterback," Champ Bailey told the AP.
Although training camp only started less than two weeks ago, there is a different feel compared to last year. There is more confidence and excitement in both the locker room and the fan base.
Although Manning is still rehabbing his shoulder, fans still clamor to the practice field to see him throw to Thomas and Decker, coach his teammates and interact with the media. With Manning's shoulder continuing to get better, his speed and velocity will only get better. Based on Manning's training camp performance so far, it's looking like the 2012 season will be a great one for the Denver Broncos!
Manning's Training Camp Grade: A