ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Peyton Manning's time has finally arrived.
Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. CDT, fans across the country will finally be able to see the four-time MVP in his Broncos debut.
Nobody is more anxious to see how Manning will handle his return to the field than the quarterback himself.
"I think we'll find out Thursday," Manning said. "The lights have not been on yet. We've had practices, we had the scrimmage Saturday, which was a game-like atmosphere, but (we're) going against a different opponent on Thursday."
That opponent will provide the first chance for Manning to take a hit this offseason, since quarterbacks are off-limits during training camp. Head Coach John Fox said he believes Manning is ready for contact.
"You never want to see your guy being the one getting hit," Fox said. "It's all part of the game. He's definitely prepared himself, and we'll see how it goes Thursday night."
Fox said that typically in the first preseason game, the starters play "some of the first quarter," the second team plays for the second and third quarters and the third-string players finish out the game. He doesn't expect Thursday's plan to stray far from that strategy.
"Whatever Coach Fox wants to do, I'm good with," Manning said. "Offensively, when we're in there, we just like to put some kind of execution together. We'd love to get a drive or two going. I've always said you love to get a bit of everything in the preseason if you can. You love to get some short-yardage work, some third-down conversions, (and) you get some red-zone (and) goal-line. In all four games, if you can get all the situations that we work on out here, that would be ideal. So, however long we play, or whatever Coach Fox wants to do, we're good with. We just need to play well when we're out there."
As a veteran in the league, Manning said he looks at the preseason as a whole, grouping all four games together when evaluating his and his team's progress entering the regular season. Still, he recognizes that each individual preseason contest helps shape the roster.
"It's serious business out there on Thursday," Manning said. "There's jobs being competed for, there's jobs that people are trying to keep. That's where all of us have something to play for. Sure, you want to win the game, but everybody's competing, trying to do their jobs well."
Rookie quarterback Brock Osweiler has worked with Manning up close and personal since he was drafted in April. Osweiler, who admitted that he expects to feel some butterflies in his stomach during pregame, said he anticipates no such uncertainty from Manning, whose return to the gridiron will make Thursday night's preseason opener as close to a must-watch exhibition as possible.
"As far as I've noticed, he's the same guy," Osweiler said. "He's been around a long time and he's played in a lot of football games. He'll be ready to go. He understands what kind of mentality you have to go into a game with and how you need to prepare for that and I think he's done a tremendous job. I'm sure No. 18 will be ready to roll."