ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Peyton Manning still remembers when, as a rookie, he chose not to throw into tight coverage -- and got called out for it.
"The coach the next day said in the meeting, 'Why didn't you throw the pass?' and I said, 'Well, he wasn't open,'" Manning recounted Tuesday. Holding his hands less than six inches apart, Manning continued, "And there was like that much room and he was like, 'By the way, that is open in the NFL.'"
Manning obviously adapted quickly to the NFL's standards for separation in coverage, but he pointed out this week that it's not always about seeing when a player is open. With the speed of today's game, Manning says you have to anticipate windows before they exist.
"You have to throw a guy open sometimes," he said. "We trust he's going to be in the spot."
That trust is certainly important, and it isn't exactly a given for unfamiliar targets to establish with the 17-year veteran quarterback. Through more than a decade together with the Colts, Manning and receiver Marvin Harrison still practiced routes versus air before every game.
No. 18 worked overtime with Demaryius Thomas, Andre Caldwell, Julius Thomas and Wes Welker to develop chemistry in recent years. He's continued the routine this offseason, inviting those four and free agent signee Emmanuel Sanders to workouts at Duke University in early April. Sanders has also practiced timing routes with Manning after practice through OTAs and minicamp, as has second-round pick Cody Latimer.
"It's just putting that work in and you kind of have it in the bank and it just pays off," Manning said. "That's why we do our little off campus workout down there at Duke."
"The more you know where a receiver's going to be, the more accurate you are and I think the more velocity you can have on a pass if you know where he's going."
According to Demaryius Thomas, that velocity could be even greater this season, and not just because of increasing trust between quarterback and receiver. Thomas said during the team's first OTA in late May that he thinks Manning's arm is "getting stronger still" after a few passes reached him "quicker than usual" in practice.
Manning didn't agree or disagree with Thomas' assessment, but said that hearing it only further improves the duo's timing.
"I like having that feedback," Manning said. "I can learn a lot off of that. I do the same thing for receivers. I tell receivers, 'Wow, you're really coming out of the stance. I'm having to throw the ball a lot sooner to keep you from outrunning.'"
Even with the unit's growing precision and perhaps a stronger arm from Manning, they've had their work cut out for them in practice, going against a defense that added two Pro Bowl players and a first-round rookie to the secondary in the offseason.
"It's tough right now, especially with the corners we have and the way they're playing and the safeties, how fast they're closing," Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase said Wednesday. "There are not big windows right now."
"(The receivers have) done a good job of trying to create separation and he's throwing them open."
In those tight windows, the offense is still having its share of success. Returning targets from last year have picked up where they left off, but Manning's post-practice work with Sanders is paying dividends as well. The two have hooked up for a number of big plays that have come in several parts of the field.
The defense, while giving the offense a great challenge, is seeing the offense's growing chemistry firsthand.
"He's going to put it on the money," Bradley Roby said. "His timing is great. As soon as (the receivers) break, the ball is right there."
"That starts from when he's out here early, having all the wide receivers out here doing their drills," DeMarcus Ware added. "It's almost like he can close his eyes and know where to throw the ball."