Good morning, Broncos Country!
Just when you thought we couldn't discuss our quarterback one more second before Training Camp got underway, Sports Illustrated comes out with its 50 reasons to get excited about the upcoming year in football.
And guess who makes No. 1?
That's right - Peyton Freaking Manning.
So guess who we're going to talk about?
Yep, Demaryius Thomas. But don't worry, we'll make it back to Manning. We always do.
In the doldrums of mid-summer but elation over DT's contract extension last week, many of the receiver's best comments in the press conference were overlooked.
Just as Thomas was making his case as one of the top wide receivers in the league by working out his five-year, $70 million contract to prove it, NFL Network was listing him as just the sixth-best NFL receiver.
No matter, says Thomas, rankings are stupid (ok, he didn't say it like that; I did).
"It's their opinion. I don't care because I know what I can do," Thomas said. "As long as I can go out there and be healthy and help my team win, I'm fine."
And Thomas doesn't care about comparing his abilities to Dez Bryant either, even if their contracts would indicate near equality.
"I try to be the best. I don't know who the best is right now, but I think that I'm the best. I like to compete," Thomas said, adding that Bryant is among many good NFL receivers. "I don't really compare myself to them. I let the fans do that. You hear it a lot, but I don't care. I just go out there."
Despite Broncos Country's worries that our star receiver won't be in great shape come Training Camp and preseason, DT assures us he has been working out and keeping up on the new offense and play book. In fact, as far as physical condition, he feels better than he did last year at this time.
"I remember my first few games last year when I was a bit slower and I hated that. I didn't want to have to feel the same way this year," Thomas said, adding that his ankle he injured near the end of the season last year is feeling good. "I think that I'm a little faster, but I'm trying to play at a smaller weight this year and see how it goes."
And now Thomas intends to add a new dimension - not just aiming to be the best himself, but to make his teammates the best they can be too. This bodes well for the 2015 team.
"I know I need to be a leader. I'm a quiet guy and don't say much," Thomas acknowledged, adding that former Broncos Champ Bailey, Brian Dawkins and Shannon Sharpe have been telling him to be a leader. "When I hear that from those guys, it really means something. I need to step up and have the guys listen to me."
No doubt he's been trained by one of the best in that department.
"I have so much love for Peyton," Thomas said of his quarterback and mentor, "with how much he helped me the past three years."
So with Manning healthy,Thomas fully on board and Emmanuel Sanders poised to shine again and Cody Latimer eager to prove his worth in this new offense, the rationale behind SI.com's No. 1 reason to be excited for the 2015 season is a little insulting. (See, I promised we'd get back to this!)
Peyton's Last Stand? It's not always easy to simply sit back and appreciate greatness, so even Peyton Manning has to deal with criticism over his playoff record (11-13) and, more recently, his arm strength. Does he have at least one more Super Bowl run in him?
It's not that I don't understand it (or that I'm truly insulted). In fact, if I'm a fan of the Chargers, Chiefs or Raiders I can see why this should also be my No. 1 concern ... because Manning will continue to be a benchmark for how my team's season might go (hint to our rivals - it still won't go well). After all, No. 18 has picked apart the AFC West ever since coming to the division three years ago.
And maybe if I'm a Colts or Packers fan, or fair weather follower of the Seahawks, or - God forbid - a fan of that cheater team in the Northeast, I would be watching Manning very carefully to see what the postseason might hold.
But as fan for the team in Orange and Blue, I already know what we've got in Manning - even at age 39 - and I'm not wasting time worrying whether he'll be as good as he was in 2013 or if he'll fall apart like the end of 2014. Like Tim Lynch said so well yesterday, Manning is not done.
And no doubt with a more running-focused offense, we won't need Manning to use the air so often.
So I'm interested in much more intriguing stuff to get excited for 2015 - such as how well does our nose tackle hold up in the new defense? Will our inside linebackers be fully healthy to start - and finish - the season? Will our offensive line work as a solid unit (and ... who is even on the O-line)? Can Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware reach their potential as league sack leaders? And how many hundreds of yards over 1,000 can C.J. Anderson run this season?
Sure, I'm curious if Manning looks at ease in the new offense. I'm definitely anxious to see how he manages down the stretch when the late season grind gets tough and everyone is banking on an obvious decline. I'm even secretly hoping our non-mobile QB runs for one play on 3rd and 6 just to prove he can! ;)
But I'm mostly just ready for what I believe could be another great season for the Manning-Thomas duo, even if it's less often. This is a new year - Manning probably has a bit of a chip on his shoulder and Thomas finally has the weight of a contract year lifted off of his.
So I'm going to make a point to appreciate this season more than most because that No.1 "reason to be excited" from SI.com does come with one very good point for all Broncos fans:
"Regardless of what happens in 2015 - or if he goes on to play in '16 - Manning has stated his case for the honor of best quarterback in NFL history. ...Enjoy the Peyton Manning Show while it lasts, because it may not go on much longer."
And believe me, we're all going to miss it when it's over.
Manning establishes Chattanooga Heroes Fund
Another thing we will miss when it's no longer in the Denver limelight is Manning's sincere outreach - both personal and financial - to communities, families and individuals in need.
In the wake of the tragic shooting of four Marines and one Navy sailor in Chattanooga, Tenn., on July 16, last week the former college standout QB at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville visited with victims' families.
And yesterday Manning established a fund specifically to help those families.
"The five servicemen who gave their lives, the police officer who risked his life in order to protect others, and the actions of many other first responders were truly heroic," Manning said in a statement. "We are proud to establish the Chattanooga Heroes Fund to honor these heroes by helping to provide for the future of their families."
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Spoiler alert - Peyton Manning tops the list.
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