For the past 17 seasons, Peyton Manning has had all eyes on him during Training Camp - every move, every decision, every throw is analyzed for its accuracy and velocity. All fumbles and missteps are critiqued with intense concern. Then he is immediately compared to other QB phenoms, which lately has been some previous version of Manning himself.
But this year is different.
"Peyton Watch 2015" is more about him not practicing than how he is practicing. For the first time in probably ever, the backup quarterback is more of a story than Manning.
Thank you, Gary Kubiak.
I know the "Kubiak-scheme-versus-the-Manning-way" is not a new story. It has been talked about ever since 'Kubes' stepped on the hallowed soil of Dove Valley to consider the Broncos' head coaching job.
But after listening to Kubiak and GM John Elway talk about their 39-year-old quarterback just before Training Camp started, there were some subtle nuggets hinting at the bigger - and better - story in this scenario.
Normally by this time of year (you know, the pinnacle of a "speculation-ravaged" offseason, full of rumors and guesses that are not even close to educated), I'm completely annoyed that analysts and pundits lack such creativity that they cannot produce any angle other than "can an old quarterback do it again?"
I've defended Manning's age on many a thread in here, and I've often criticized the concern over his arm, his durability, his ability to win it all.
I don't know if he will do it, but I definitely believe he still can, and I certainly know Manning is the kind of guy who will give it everything...and that "everything" is still damn good.
But that's not the point. The point is I know why this season could truly be one of Manning's best - if not the best (at least in terms of the outcome).
It is because Peyton Freaking Manning has met his match. His coaching match.
And it comes via a former backup quarterback to John Elway.
I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but I could almost imagine Elway thinking to himself last December that what his quarterback needed was not an extra day in the training room or a bye week or even an offensive line - but rather a Gary Kubiak.
Elway needed a coach who would have the vision to manage his aging-but-still-phenomenal quarterback the right way - beginning in April with a plan rather than guessing in January.
"No question" player management/development is a strength of Kubiak's, Elway says.
"I think the key thing with Peyton, and I think Peyton's on board with it, is that even though you can't feel it now, if you're doing too much work now, eventually that's going to catch up to you," said Elway, who knows this because Kubiak had to remind him of it too back in the mid-90s. "Because at 37, 38, 39-years-old where he is, you can't make that up at the end."
Kubiak, in fact, remembers this same conversation among coaches when Elway was facing a similar challenge while having similar championship goals as an older quarterback.
"I can remember some of the conversations that we're having now and some of the same conversations we had as coaches going into John's last year, too - how we're going to approach his work and how we're going to go about things," Kubiak said. "[Peyton] responded really well in the offseason program about not working every day. I think that his arm looked really good. I thought, physically, looked really good, and I want to stay that course. I think that it will be good for him and good for the team."
And a few days into Camp, Kubiak believed his QB was accepting it.
"I think that it's good for him to watch what's going on and to give his body a break. I just think that it will be good for him in the long haul," Kubiak said. "I know it's hard on him and we all know that, but I think that he understands why we're trying to do it."
For a cerebral quarterback like Manning, he can't argue with this logic. And as much as it probably kills him not to be in charge 100 percent of the time, he is clearly seeing the light and letting Kubiak do something few coaches, if any, have done with Manning - manage him.
"I'm fine with it," Manning said of the coach-mandated rest for him and other players.
I'm not only fine with it, I like it. A lot.
As much as I love and defend what Manning does, even I have to admit that his controlling nature can get in his own way - and the team's. That control has its place for a quarterback, no doubt, but Kubiak's experience as a backup QB gives him a unique perspective for relating to No. 18 - and convincing him of this approach.
And it doesn't hurt that Kubiak's experience running an offense as both a backup quarterback called in occasionally to relieve an injured or ailing future Hall-of-Famer and as a seasoned head coach has enjoyed a very good track record so far. It has no doubt earned both Manning's ear and his respect.
Listening to @Terrell_Davis describe the Kubiak offense, I think we can all guarantee that Peyton Manning is winning another Super Bowl.— The Orange Page (@theorangepage) August 4, 2015
It certainly worked for Elway.
"Having spent the time I've spent around Gary, I know that he's a great offensive mind," Elway noted on Thursday. "For a quarterback and as a coach, [he's] a guy's best friend. I think it's a great situation for Peyton to be in, too, ... to be able to play for a guy like Gary with his knowledge and experience that he has on the offensive side."
And to Kubiak's credit, he knows not to just impose "his system" on a quarterback who has found great success with his own formula.
Giving Manning a "great deal" of freedom to do what he's been doing is part of the "Broncos' offense" now.
"He's been the best in the business, and he has been doing it for many years. This off-season was about us coming together and getting on the same page as far as what we want to do offensively," Kubiak said, adding the Broncos' offense will include a lot of what Manning has been good at over the years...as well as a lot more snaps under center. "We'll put it all together, and we'll do what we do best. Obviously, he has done that well for a long time."
Seeing Manning relinquish some control and challenge himself to accept a new offensive scheme and a different role that includes rest plus playing time for his backup is a refreshing twist to "Peyton Watch 2015," and I'm excited to see how it plays out.
Thank you, Peyton Manning.