By Ron Chenoy, US Presswire
Peyton looked like the Manning of old, directing the Broncos to a season-opening win over the Steelers.
by Lindsay H. Jones, USA TODAY Sports
INDIANAPOLIS - Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning proved in 2012 that he had recovered enough from four neck surgeries to return to near-MVP form. His coach, John Fox, said Thursday that he expects Manning to be even healthier in 2013.
"A lot was made of the neck and the surgeries. But in reality, it's a nerve situation, and it takes a while for nerves to grow," Fox said at the NFL scouting combine. "He's getting better every day. I think he'll be, health-wise, he'll be even better this year."
Manning's spinal fusion surgery in September, 2011 left him unable to throw, or do much physical activity at all, for his final months as an Indianapolis Colt. His first offseason after signing with the Broncos last March was filled with rehabibiliation work.
The rehab process isn't over - and might never be for the 36-year-old quarterback - but Fox said he thinks this spring and summer should be markedly different for the four-time MVP.
"He'll have a full offseason for his whole body to get ready, not just the arm, the neck and some of those rehab things," Fox said. "He can actually work out now. I think he'll just get stronger and better."
For the first time since Fox and Broncos executive vice president John Elway took control of the team in 2011, the Broncos are not scouting quarterbacks at the combine. They signed Manning to a five-year contract and used a second-round pick on backup Brock Osweiler last year.
Osweiler played only a few snaps in blowouts. But with a relatively weak draft class of quarterbacks in 2013, last year's selection of Osweiler - which didn't go over well with much of the Broncos' fan base - looks better now. He was drafted ahead of players like Russell Wilson, who started all of the Seattle Seahawks' games, and Kirk Cousins, who played in relief of injured Robert Griffin III.
"I wish we could have said we were that smart," Fox said of the decision to take Osweiler. "He's made great progress. He's really been impressive on and off the field. I think he's got a lot of the intangibles."
The Broncos have far more pressing health concerns than Manning's.
Fox confirmed that four of Denver's five projected starting offensive linemen are recovering from surgeries - left tackle Ryan Clady (shoulder), center J.D. Walton (ankle), right guard Chris Kuper (ankle) and right tackle Orlando Franklin (toe). Only left guard Zane Beadles emerged from the 2012 season healthy.
Walton spent the last three months of the season on injured reserve after breaking his ankle Sept. 30. Veteran center Dan Koppen, playing on a one-year contract, started the rest of the season, but Fox said Walton is "definitely our starter" for 2013.
Walton, Clady and Kuper are all expected to be unable to participate in the offseason program while they continue to recover. The Broncos plan to use their franchise tag on Clady, a three-time Pro Bowler.
The Broncos and Clady's agent, Pat Dye, called off contract negotiations before last season when the two sides couldn't agree on a long-term deal. Even with the franchise tag, the sides expect resume negotiations toward a new contract.
"I know we want Ryan, and that Ryan wants to be a Denver Bronco," Fox said. "The business part will work itself out one way or another."
Follow Lindsay H. Jones on Twitter @bylindsayhjones
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