ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When OTAs kicked off in May, quarterback Peyton Manning talked about different "checkpoints" on his road to recovery.
The next step arrived on Thursday, as the Broncos opened training camp for the 2012 season.
"I'm excited that training camp is here," Manning said. "I look forward to training camp, because that means football season's getting closer. This is important work for us, (and it's) certainly important for me. The two-a-days and getting multiple plays run against our defense is important for me. It's another step for me."
Manning put on a bit of a show during the morning's practice, connecting with a variety of receivers throughout the session and at one point during a walkthrough, even taking off from the pocket on a scramble.
All of those plays -- not to mention the moment he ran onto the field at the start of practice -- drew raucus cheers from a record crowd at Dove Valley.
"I kind of liked when he ran and did a little stiff arm," rookie running back Ronnie Hillman smiled. "They all got crazy. That was pretty funny. He could run faster than I thought he could."
It was obvious the quarterback was excited to be back in his element after missing the 2011 season.
"Did I miss playing? What do you think?" Manning said. "I have missed it, and I've never taken it for granted to be out there playing. I had been playing for 13 years straight and never missed a game since I've been playing quarterback in the seventh grade. That's a lot of consecutive games, a lot of Fridays or Saturdays or Sundays to be playing a game. So I'm glad to be back in more of a normal routine, in a practice routine."
The team has a second, walkthrough practice Thursday evening, and training camp continues with the next practice open to the public Friday at 2:20 p.m. MDT.
In that practice routine, Head Coach John Fox said Manning has been doing an "outstanding" job, and he has encouraged younger players to watch how he approaches every facet of the game.
"Part of ... improving in a profession is watching guys who have done it very well or done it great," Fox said. "You put guys back there, (former safety) Brian Dawkins was with us a year ago, (cornerback) Champ Bailey is still there, a guy like Peyton Manning, and what they've accomplished, whether it's MVPs, great numbers of Pro Bowls, those are great examples to watch and learn. Our players have done that."
After Thursday morning's practice, Bailey said Manning "looks good," and is just as accurate as he ever was in Indianapolis.
But Manning knows he's just getting started.
"During training camp, we're getting a great test going against our defense, so you try to establish a little bit of your identity," he said. "I need this work in training camp, and this is the first day. I'm going to try to get better every day, keep making progress. I still have rehab to do, which I will continue to do throughout training camp and throughout the season. It felt good to be out there today in a training camp practice, where the intensity was there. I look forward to the next steps, to putting pads on, playing preseason games. We're getting more comfortable, but we still have work to do."