ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --
After missing all of last season due to a neck injury that required surgery, the quarterback said he has "work to do" to get back to the Manning of old.
But that wouldn't stop him from suiting up in a few days, if he had to.
“Could I play a game this Sunday? Yeah, I could," Manning said Tuesday. "I don’t know if I would play as well as I’d like, but yes, I could play. I could go out there and do it. I don’t know if you’d call it high standards or what, but I want to keep working and get back to where I was. I’m not supposed to be where I want to be at this point. It is March, and I have a hard time reminding myself of that."
Last season was the first time in a "pretty unbelievable streak of health" that the quarterback had to miss such a significant amount of time due to injury.
When he was released by the Indianapolis Colts after the campaign, he was open with teams about his recovery.
He told the Broncos about his entire medical history, putting "all the cards on the table" as teams determined their level of interest in the 11-time Pro Bowler.
"What was encouraging to me was all the teams that I talked to in that process said they wanted to go forward," he said. "I know how much I want to be back out there playing ball again. I know how hard I’ve worked to just get to this point from a health standpoint, and how much I need to work.”
When the Broncos flew to Durham, N.C., to watch Manning throw, the club brought its medical staff including Head Athletic Trainer Steve Antonopulos.
Head Coach John Fox said Manning was forthright about his injury, and the medical staff "gave us the thumbs up."
"I don’t consider it much of a risk knowing Peyton Manning," Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway said. "As (Manning) said, his willingness to tell us anything — he told us everything, exactly how he was feeling and what he thought. I will tell you this: The thing that got me is I asked him, ‘Peyton, is there any doubt in your mind that you can get back to the Peyton Manning that we know of?’ He said, ‘There is no doubt in my mind.’"
That's what the Broncos -- and Manning -- are looking for. Since he entered the league as the first overall selection in the 1998 NFL Draft, Manning has thrown for more than 4,000 yards in 11 seasons -- the most all-time by a quarterback. In all 13 seasons he has played, he has thrown at least 25 touchdown passes -- also the most all-time.
And Manning doesn't want to gradually get back to. He said he'll work with Antonopulos, Strength and Conditioning Coach Luke Richesson and his coaches to not only get healthy, but learn the playbook as quickly as possible.
"This isn’t something that I’m building a foundation for -- this is a now situation," Manning said. "We’re trying to win now. We’re going to do whatever we can to win right now, and that’s all I’m thinking about — getting back to the way I want to be and trying to win now.”
As for the season he missed, Manning said it was hard. But he's looking at it as a positive.
"I feel my body will be rested, will be fresher in some ways," he said. "There is no question that you’d rather not have taken a year off. I’m hoping I can turn that into a positive and be fresher and some of the other parts of my body be healthier and more rested not having taken a bunch of hits this year."
Offseason conditioning this year will start in April, OTAs in May, and training camp typically begins in late July. Manning said his goal is to be able to participate in everything with the rest of his teammates. But he continued to stress the amount of work it will take to get to where he wants to be.
The team is confident he'll get there.
"I just know when you look at Peyton’s track record and his health, it was mentioned earlier, he hasn’t had any other significant injuries," Elway said. "I think with the way he plays the game, we believe he can play as long as he wants."