ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Quarterback Peyton Manning has spent the past few months essentially throwing against air.
On Monday, Organized Team Activities kicked off, and Manning couldn't have been more thrilled.
"I do think there's a difference when you're on the field in helmets going against the defense," Manning said. "Up until now we haven't been able to go against the defense, so this will be great work for me. Going against Champ Bailey, Von Miller, Elvis (Dumervil), (Tracy) Porter, Drayton Florence we just signed -- we've got three great cover corners to work against. Until now we've been kind of just throwing passes versus air. You can work on your timing with the receivers, but really it's a great test to go against these corners. I'm looking forward to it and I'll try to use all these practices to see where I am and get better each time."
The reviews were unanimous -- it was a good first day of practice for the club.
"This was definitely one of the most intense first days of OTAs that I've had in a while," Bailey said. "It felt good. I love to see the guys running as hard as they have been."
It was the first official practice for everyone -- save the players that took part in the rookie minicamp from May 11-13 -- but on Monday the focus surrounded Manning.
As the quarterback said, it was the first time he's thrown against a defense all offseason, and the first time he's been in a uniform in an organized practice in about a year-and-a-half.
Head Coach John Fox said the team is excited about Manning's progress, which he described as "outstanding," recovering from his injury.
And as far as Bailey is concerned, there's no way anyone could tell he missed an entire year of football.
"From what I see right now, the guy hasn't missed a beat," Bailey said. "I knew it just watching him before the OTAs started that he was going to look good this week."
"It looks like he's picking up right where he left off."
Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway and newly named Broncos Ring of Famer Rod Smith both took in the practice along with approximately 60 media members, watching as Manning took some of his first official snaps as a Bronco.
Manning said these practices are just as much about the mental side of the game as the physical, but one of the most important facets is continuing to develop timing with his targets.
"Certainly you do try to get a feel for certain guys, and not everybody is the same," he said. "(Brandon) Stokley runs his slot option routes just a little bit different than (Eric) Decker does. That's what this work is all about, just knowing who's in there, knowing where to throw it. Demaryius Thomas gives you more flexibility as far as where you can put the ball because of his size. That's where these repetitions really pay off, to get a real feel for each receiver."
With the defense on the field, it's a great opportunity for the receivers as well.
"If you can't get better going against some of these top cover corners, it's just not meant to be," Manning said. "It's a great challenge for everybody."
After five weeks of the club's offseason conditioning program, everyone had a little more pep in their step to finally be on the practice field.
Fox noted the great participation at the volunteer workouts, and Stokley said any opportunity to get out of the weight room for a little is welcomed.
"It's fun to get out here and do what you know you're supposed to do -- play football," he smiled. "That's what it boils down to. You do all that stuff to come out here and play better."
The club's offensive scheme has been a talking point for some time, and Stokley said the unit is "pretty far along for this early in the year."
Bailey has noticed, particularly with Manning running the show.
"It feels good to know he's going to be on my side," he said. "What I saw today, he's going to give us some good work. We might not see a quarterback like that all year. It's going to be something that's going to get us prepared for games."
Two more days remain during these OTAs, followed by a three days of OTAs next week, four days of OTAs the following week and finally a three-day minicamp in mid-June.
Manning anticipates using every single one of those days to get better.
"I just can't tell you how important these OTAs are," the quarterback reiterated. "I think they're important for everybody, but when you're a new player on a new team coming off an injury, they take added importance. I thought today was an excellent start and I look forward to the rest of the time we're here."