The road to the Super Bowl is a hard one, and it starts in the offseason, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning told reporters Wednesday. Manning was back in Denver to speak at a Boy Scouts of America Denver Area Council Sports Breakfast, marking Manning's first media availability since the Broncos' 43-8 loss to the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The sting from that loss was still apparent, but the message was clear: Manning said he and the Broncos are moving forward.
"Obviously it was disappointing," Manning said. "We will use that to fuel us this offseason and hopefully it will make us better. The front office has addressed some offseason needs via free agency and of course the draft is coming up. It's up to the players to put in the hard work in the weight room, in the film room and on the practice field to try and be a better team this year. That all starts Monday the 21st."
Monday kicks off the team's offseason conditioning program, but Manning and his receivers got a head start on team-building at Duke University, an annual excursion that has been dubbed "Camp Manning." Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Julius Thomas, Andre 'Bubba' Caldwell, and new receiver Emmanuel Sanders all participated in the event.
"Those guys are in good shape and we had some good work," Manning said. "It was good work for me on my fundamentals and going back to see coach [David] Cutcliffe. It was good, productive work."
Still, Manning's emphasis was on the hard work the Broncos have ahead of them.
"You have to move forward," Manning said. "You have to kind of reestablish your identity of the 2014 team. The 2013 team-it was a good season in a lot of ways. There is no question it did not end the way we wanted it to but we have to find a way to build off that and take a step further-try to finish. There is no question you have to kind of start over again and reestablish the chemistry on this team with all these new players."
Manning mentioned the loss of players like Champ Bailey and Wesley Woodyard as the "worst part of football", when the business side comes into play. But he also spoke highly of the front office's acquisitions. The Broncos have brought in DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, and Sanders as role-players for these 2014 Broncos.
"We added some great players," Manning said. "I'm excited about working with them staring on Monday."
That's when these pieces can begin to gel.
"It does take a lot of hard work and sacrifice. I think forming that chemistry takes time," said Manning. "Talib getting to know Chris Harris; DeMarcus getting to know [Kevin] Vickerson and [Derek] Wolfe and Von [Miller] - the guys he's going to be rushing with. For me, getting to know Sanders. It's not an overnight process."
Manning said he is hungrier than ever to win the Super Bowl.
"That's what I want to do. That's what the Denver Broncos want to do. I'm glad to be a part of a team where that's what they want to do. I want to try to do my best to do my part. Keep myself in good shape and get on the same page with my receivers. I feel that I have a responsibility to the team to be on top of my game and that's what I think about every day when I go over there to work and lift weights and throw with my receivers-doing my job to help the Denver Broncos. That's what I've tried to do since I've been here and that's what I'll keep doing until I stop playing."
"Just because you were there last year in the game, it doesn't guarantee you anything," said Manning.