Monday Musings - Manning, MJ & McCoy

After TJ cited Peyton Manning’s radio appearance on 104.3 last week, I spent some time thinking about what Manning had said. There’s no other way for me to put it - I feel like you've got to love Peyton’s approach in all of this. This is what other, lesser QBs should have brought to the table over the years - the unshakable desire to win, and a willing acceptance of their role in making it happen.

He's spoken of as one of the best of the best among QBs - and he is. He’ll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, yet he’s essentially a soft-spoken man and he has a remarkable natural kindness to his mannerisms. He gives me the feeling that he’s someone who grew up in a good home and who has, himself, an unusual level of maturity. I’ve been privileged to have friends who have adult children like this, and the apples didn’t fall far from the tree. Simply put, the man has something that’s in unsettlingly short supply in our country of late - good manners. He's also both humble and incredibly hard working, yet he has the big ring to prove just how talented he is. He's a living antonym of the star player syndrome that is, at times, too easily present in the league and too often praised and cheered on in the community.

TJ took time off of designing billboards to pull this quote:

I haven’t left here since I signed last Tuesday. I plan on being here all off season.

I deeply appreciate the low-key style that Manning is demonstrating by living at the facility so that he can learn the Broncos playbook. You can’t tell me that there aren’t guys out there who were thinking about taking a day off from working out, but who are going to think twice and put the sweats back on again. Not with that vibration coming from the top. Manning’s not the kind of guy to walk in and dictate what he wants - he’s there to learn exactly what they want, to start. It’s not his first playbook. He’s not going to have all that much trouble with it, although his body will limit some physical reps early on. He’s already throwing at a good pace, which leaves me pretty comfortable with his healing curve. He’ll also be running through plays in his head when he asks Eric Decker and company to go for this or that route. He’ll get there.

John Elway talked about using Manning's verbiage to call his audibles at the line - which they want Manning to do. Josh McDaniels used to rave about how smart Kyle Orton was, and Orton did make a lot of good calls at the line. Manning is several dozen cuts above that level of ability. Not letting him call the audibles would be the mental equivalent of taping his left arm to his side when they sent him out on the field. Said Elway,

What I told Peyton is, what we do that's pretty much the same, it's yours. But you're probably going to have to learn what we've got.

That’s what Manning considers his first order of business. it’s why he’s living at Dove Valley. By the time the season rolls around, the Broncos, OC Mike McCoy and Manning will have decided exactly what parts of each system to integrate.

The calls at the line of scrimmage?

It will be all him. Manning's 10 fellow offensive starters also will have to do some studying.

That last bit is something of an understatement. For all his mannerliness off the field, making the wrong cut or failing to catch a timing route is a fast way to see Peyton’s other side - the one that drove his team to playoff victories and won a Super Bowl. He’s not kidding around out there. He expects every player to be just as dedicated as he is, and just as well prepared.

He could ask to be put up anywhere. The only reason he’s staying at team HQ is that he wants to be as close as possible to the facility. It’s also Leadership 101, although he’s not doing it to be an example. It’s just how he is. Even so, the players catch on very quickly with that kind of example at the helm.

It’s also true that Manning’s going to get to knock off some rust and work back into football condition. I remember back to Michael Jordan’s experience: He wasn’t hurt. He just took a couple of years off to live the life of a guy starting out again. He wanted to get away from the big money and big business of the NBA and to be around guys who play a sport just for the love of it. I thought that was beautiful.

But basketball requires a player to have a very soft wrist movement if he’s going to have a sweet touch on shooting the ball. That doesn’t mean that his wrists weren’t strong, just that they did one very specific task over and over for years. Baseball requires that you practice, preferably from a young age, learning how to snap the wrists around in a motion that’s nearly a polar opposite to that required for NBA basketball. Knowing that, it wasn’t good odds that he’d be able to get very far in it, but that wasn’t the point for him anyway. He just wanted to get a fix of young guys who lived the life for its own sake. I think it helped keep Michael sane for the next three trophy runs. By the end of them, he’d had enough.

When Jordan returned from his baseball sojourn, he was a very different player for a little while. He hadn’t had surgery, but he’d had an additional half-year off from his sport over Manning’s situation. He moved differently. You could see that his mind was just as court-savvy, but his body wouldn’t quite do what he wanted it to. He didn’t have the cadence, the rhythm, the music. He also wasn’t in the same kind of shape. He quickly got back into it, and seemed to go even lighter, physically, although you could still use him for a muscular anatomy chart. You could watch him developing and coming back each game, each week.

He won the next year’s championship and the two after that, so you couldn’t say that his need to round back up to form mattered that much in the long term. Jordan left the game as much from emotional fatigue as from any declining physical gifts. I expect that Manning will also need some time to round into form, but it’s still likely true that Manning’s mediocre is a lot of quarterbacks' best days. The Broncos should do fine with him.

From the start, he’s handling things in the perfect way. I know that he’s also healing up, but he's choosing to be starting out where every new player starts out, with the understandable codicil that he knows he's got the job in the fall. He’s acting as if he’s just another new player, learning the playbook.

At the same time, Denver has already started building around him the way architecture suddenly changed when they invented rebar-reinforced concrete. When your team solves their entire TE problem in a single week and you give them one of history’s best QBs to catch from, all of the sudden there’s a new sense that things are doable. It’s something that they’ll also need to gradually carry over onto the defense.

Of course, over some period of time the Broncos will try to identify and use every specific skill, route pattern, and approach to the entire game that Manning really likes - perhaps including listening to his beliefs on the running game and seeing if there are some plays that Denver could add to John Fox’s approach. But for right now, it’s up to Peyton to learn Denver’s approach. That’s how it ought to be, too. Then they’ll start the process of merging what they have to what he’s most comfortable doing, unlike what Minnesota went through in taking on a QB to start following the lockout-shortened offseason.

"We started on the fly trying to introduce everything with Donovan," Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier said of his team's experience with Donovan McNabb. "Which is hard. Having an offseason where the players and coaches will be around Peyton; they respect him right now because of what they've seen and heard. But when they work with him daily during the offseason, they're going to be, 'Wow. This guy is truly the leader of our team.'"

Mike McCoy is very shrewd at facilitating this kind of thing. He’s got a knack for putting people in the same room and from that experience, putting offenses together on the fly, just as he did with Adam Gase, Tim Tebow, and at times, John Fox. With six months to work on it, this one could end up being his masterpiece. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was the happiest guy in Dove Valley right now. Pat Bowlen’s beside himself, EFX and Manning himself are all pretty much smiling right now (the two TEs didn't hurt anything), and the entire defense just let a big breath out, but it might be Mike McCoy who gets the most out of this one.

That's an interesting karma for him, isn’t it? I’d leave his playcalling out for a second and look at how well and how quickly he managed to create the offenses last year. 2010 was brutal. Next, the 2011 season was an incredibly challenging experience for him, which he handled well. For 2011 he had designed a Coryell- and Erhardt-Perkins-influenced offense that reflected John Fox’s feelings on the run, and he implemented it in a shortened offseason - essentially, during a short training camp. Although Kyle Orton tanked, there were frequently open receivers and it looked like it would have worked with a functioning QB.

When the decision came down to put in Tim Tebow, McCoy and company had to create a totally new offense on the fly, and under him they had the guts to put in college tactics and rode them all the way to a playoff win. For all of their hard work during that time and in the followup to showing that they’re changing as a franchise, they’ve just landed the prize of the offseason and tossed in a wide receiver and two very good TEs to go with him. The veteran picks on defense were quiet by comparison. Free agency is not over, but the biggest fish in the pond landed smack next to the foot of the Rockies.

Now, McCoy’s reward is to get to merge Peyton Fracking Manning into designing his 2012 playbook (and yes, I watched all 4.5 seasons of the recent version of Battlestar Galactica and I thought it was brilliant. Science fiction’s been right about a lot of things over the decades). The more I study the strategies of developing an NFL offensive game plan as seen through the writings of the coaches that I’ve most admired over the years, including obtaining and studying several NFL playbooks from previous seasons, the better I like Mike McCoy. I’m also beginning to understand what he’s doing with his playcalling, and even that makes a lot more sense to me. As you’d expect from someone that John Fox wants around, he also seems like a nice fellow and it's always good to see a guy like that hit it big.

What an incredible, mind-blowingly great job to have, isn't it? It's pretty much a film freak's softly treasured What do you think you could you do if you had... dream come to life. Some guys like playing Madden:  Mike McCoy gets to make it come to life. Oh, and those two first-round wideouts from the 2010 Draft and the fast kid from the practice squad? Nice little legacy, there. We might just be hearing their names on a lot of nationally-televised games next season. I’ll give Josh McDaniels credit for this - he brought in some very good wide receivers. The timing is immaculate.

Manning has a long way still to go. Denver? They’re likely to go a long way. Mike McCoy is likely to travel nearly all of it with a big grin on his face.

Go Broncos!

Learn to laugh at yourself. You will be ceaselessly amused. - Sri Gary Olsen

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