ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Accidents do happen, life is proof of that.
The narrative swirling around Manning since he suffered a thigh injury in December and the Broncos were unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs last January, since he had another 39th birthday and the Broncos hired Gary Kubiak as the team’s coach, is that Manning is used to doing things one way and Kubiak’s version of the West Coast offense doesn’t fit him.
So, every time Manning has spoken publicly this offseason he has taken direct aim at those two items, even before officially deciding to return for his 18th NFL season.
On Jan. 30, after receiving the Bart Starr Award, he offered: "If I choose to come back, I feel pretty comfortable -- aside maybe from Tubby Raymond's Delaware Wing T offense -- I feel pretty comfortable playing in any offense, I really do."
On April 28, days before the draft he said: "I like to think I’m pretty versatile, believe it or not. I feel like I can execute whatever plays the coach calls. I feel the different offenses I’ve been in that I’ve executed the plays that the coordinator has called. I feel like I can do that."
On the notion of resistance to learning a new offense, he said: "I like being out there. I like working. I like learning. I’ve always enjoyed that part of it. I’m looking forward to learning coach Kubiak’s philosophies and trying to do my part as a quarterback. I’m looking forward to the process."
Last week, as the Broncos opened Phase 3 of their offseason program -- the first time 11-on-11 drills, with offense vs. defense is allowed in offseason -- Manning reaffirmed his stance.
"I feel that whatever they ask me to do, I can do," Manning said on May 27 and added later; "I love being coached. I get angry when I’m not coached. I ask a lot of questions and certainly appreciate any insight and feedback. I think if you ever stop listening to coaching or stop asking questions, you probably need to be doing something else. This is the kind of time for it."
On working through a new playbook, Manning said: "I certainly ask a lot of questions and I’m always learning ... you always have to be learning and asking a lot of questions. I ask a lot of questions of (offensive coordinator Rick Dennison) and coach Kubiak, and am trying to learn from them. This is the time to ask questions. They kind of encourage that. Ask questions, and if you don’t ask, that’s kind of on you. That’s your mistake. I try to ask a lot."
What does it mean? That remains to be seen when games are played. But those around the Broncos say Kubiak, a former NFL quarterback who has coached Steve Young and John Elway, knows the heartbeat of the game’s alpha position. And many who have worked with Kubiak and Dennison, including former Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer, have consistently said they will find the common ground between what they want and what works for Manning.
Former Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, now the offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears, was asked what Manning wants most from a coach and Gase quickly replied "answers."
Dennison echoed those thoughts this past week.
"He’s a funny guy, we have a good time," Dennison said. "But he’s very smart. He keeps you on task and on your toes. He asks you a lot of questions, which is great ... All good players that I’ve ever been around -- great players -- loved to be coached. They all work hard and they loved to be coached, and he’s no exception. He likes it when you give him feedback. He loves it when you ask him a question and you challenge him and then he comes back and challenges."
Ultimately the comfort level of all involved, and the points on the scoreboard, will be determined by whatever balance Manning and the coaches find in the staff’s desire to run the ball more -- better and with game-changing purpose -- and Manning’s desire to have rhythm in the passing the game.
Last season, especially after the Broncos tried to run more after their November loss in St. Louis when they had 10 rushing attempts, that rhythm was lacking at times and Manning wore a look of frustration because of it.
But summer is coming and, right now, Manning and the Broncos’ offensive decision-makers feel good about where things are headed.
"Look, I’ve said all along, we’re going to do what Peyton is comfortable with, what works best for us and what we believe in," Kubiak said. "We'd be stupid not to do that, to do what works. He’s one of the best ever to play, he can do so many things, I have no doubt we’ll put together something that works."