There are few people who can relate to what new Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson has been through over the past decade in general and the past month in particular.
Success with the team that drafted him. … Multiple Super Bowl appearances and at least one championship. …Gaining comfort as the face of an entire franchise. …regular trips to the playoffs. …and leaving his original team.
But Peyton Manning can. Ten years ago, Manning experienced the same thing.
“I’ve spoken to Russell on a number of occasions and we’ve had conversations about some of the things that have helped me in my transition to a different team that I think can apply to anyone who makes the jump, especially after having Been in a place for a long time,” Manning said last week in a telephone interview with the Denver Post to promote his Sweetens Cove brand of bourbon. “(I’ve had) conversations with coach (Nathaniel) Hackett about some of these things. Maybe some do’s and don’ts have helped me and can definitely apply and Russell can start here in his first year.”
In March 2012, after missing the entire 2011 season with a neck injury, Manning was released by the Indianapolis Colts to make way for first overall pick Andrew Luck. The Broncos won the Manning Contest and he capped his Pro Football Hall of Fame career with two more Super Bowl appearances (one win) and a four-year regular season record of 45-12.
Last month, the Seattle Seahawks traded Wilson to the Broncos. If the second stoppage of his NFL career is a similar success, the package of three players and five draft picks will be worth it.
Wilson attended Manning Passing Camp while in high school and elite quarterbacks tend to travel in the same circles and talk to each other via speed dial/text—”I’m for all quarterbacks” is a go-to line from Manning. As the details of the trade were being finalized, Wilson called Manning.
“I wanted to make sure that, ‘Hey, what went well? What didn’t go so well? What did you learn? What did you learned about yourself as a player?” Wilson said last month during his introductory press conference. “After going through that experience of being in Indy and coming here, it was a big decision .”
Wilson agreed to waive his no-trade clause to join the Broncos. When he returns to the Denver area this month for the offseason program, Manning said he and Wilson plan to “get together.”
“I probably don’t have enough time to go through all the things that are special about Russell’s game,” Manning said.
The parallels between Manning and Wilson are obvious. A history of the band when they joined the Broncos.
Age: Manning 36, Wilson 33.
Super Bowl appearances (record): Manning two (1-1), Wilson two (1-1). Wilson’s Super Bowl win was over the Manning Broncos after the 2013 season.
Regular season starts (record, winning percentage): Manning 208 (141-67, 67.8%), Wilson 158 (104-53-1, 66.1%).
Start of playoffs (record, winning percentage): Manning 19 (9-10, 47.4%), Wilson 16 (9-7, 56.3).
Professional balls: Manning 11, Wilson nine.
Regular season touchdowns/interceptions: Manning 399/198, Wilson 292/87.
(Manning has won four NFL MVP awards with the Colts and Wilson has three top-four finishes for Offensive Player of the Year.)
The Broncos were on a five-game winless streak (one playoff appearance) when Manning arrived. They won four consecutive AFC West titles, two conference crowns and a Super Bowl under his leadership.
Wilson joined a team that missed the playoffs six straight years, the Broncos’ longest streak since 1960-76.
Wilson was a rookie in 2012 when Manning made his switch.
“Along the way for me, I’ve always known that what I believe about great players…you have to be really, really good at being consistent, but also, you have to be really, really good at adjusting,” Wilson said. “Now is the time to adapt.”
Manning was asked what stood out about Wilson’s play and approach.
“Just his leadership and his work ethic – you start there and then obviously you get to the ability and the talent on the pitch,” Manning said. “His ability to get out of the pocket and make every throw from inside the pocket – that’s something unique. And then the fact that he’s going to work really hard to get his timing with his receivers.
Manning said players in the Broncos’ skill position will benefit — and already have — from knowing Wilson is QB1, period.
“Look, it’s about having continuity and consistency,” Manning said. “The fact that Russell is the starting quarterback today – we know that. There is no quarterback competition (like last year). Every catcher knows they have to tune their timing with him to a perfect science. It’s the world I’ve always lived in and believed in and it’s going to pay big dividends for the team.
It was still days before he made his Instagram debut last month, so Manning relied on text messages from Wilson detailing his pitching sessions with new teammates in San Diego.
What Manning saw, he liked – Wilson was already starting the chemistry building project.
What Manning heard he liked even more – Wilson and the receivers having regular dialogue.
Wilson hosted center Lloyd Cushenberry, tight end/fullback Andrew Beck, tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, backup quarterbacks Brett Rypien and Josh Johnson and receivers Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, KJ Hamler and Kendall Hinton at the first wave. Last week, receiver Jerry Jeudy practiced with Wilson.
“No surprises there,” Manning said of Wilson’s level of desire. “Russell told me he was going to bring these guys to San Diego and that’s what it’s about.”
In 2013, Manning brought receivers Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker to his offseason workouts at Duke University.
“There’s something unique about the job you do without the coaches,” Manning said. “Russell creates the (training) script. He’s the offensive coordinator if you will. He and Patrick and him and Sutton speak directly. If something’s wrong or they’re not right on that road, (they say), “Let’s do it again.”
“When the coaches are there, you always have to move on because you have a schedule and you’re only allowed to be there for a certain amount of time under ABC rules.”
In Manning’s opinion, Wilson and the players doing the initial work will benefit when they set up Hackett’s offense in court sessions this spring. They will have a report already established, which they can apply to a system that will be new for everyone.
“When you have these workouts on your own, it’s, ‘Let’s get it right,'” Manning said. “That’s always been the beauty of those things when I was playing. I know Russell is from the same school, so that was really cool to see.