DENVER (AP) — John Elway says the Denver Broncos, still stinging from their playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens in January, are primed for greatness in 2013 if they can just stay healthy and hungry.
Two of the biggest reasons for his optimism: Von Miller and Peyton Manning.
The Broncos executive vice president said he’s hopeful Miller won’t have to sit out all of September for violating the NFL’s drug-abuse policy. The All-Pro linebacker is having a terrific training camp while he appeals a pending four-game suspension.
Elway even called Miller, the first player he drafted, the most talented player he’s ever seen on either side of the ball.
He was equally effusive in his praise of Manning, who is throwing the ball better and appears much more comfortable in his second season in Denver. With the offseason addition of Wes Welker to the roster, Elway said he’s “truly jealous of the weapons that Peyton gets to throw to.”
After watching the four-time MVP throw the football with such authority this summer and then catching his hilarious new commercial with brother Eli for DirecTV this week, Elway noted that Manning’s pitches are strong this year both on and off the football field.
“Great video,” Elway said. “But I will tell him today to stick to his day job.”
Elway made his remarks during a keynote address at an event held by the National Sports Center for the Disabled on Wednesday at Sports Authority Field.
Manning’s right arm is noticeably thicker and his throws stronger now that he’s another year removed from a series of neck injuries and surgeries that affected a nerve that runs into his right triceps and cost him all of the 2011 season, his last in Indianapolis.
Manning was the Comeback Player of the Year last season when he led Denver to a 13-3 record and the AFC’s top seed before the Broncos lost 38-35 to the Ravens in double-overtime on Jan. 12, snapping their 11-game winning streak.
The Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl, but in an odd twist, those two teams will open the 2013 season not in Baltimore but in Denver on Sept. 5 because baseball’s Orioles are playing at home that same day.
It’s the Broncos who are the trendy Super Bowl pick this year despite a series of embarrassing episodes including Miller’s troubles, the suspensions of Elway’s top two assistants for drunken driving arrests and the fax faux pas that led to Elvis Dumervil’s departure in free agency.
Elway compared the Broncos’ playoff loss to the Ravens last winter to Jacksonville’s upset of the well-rested Broncos in Denver in 1996 when they also were 13-3 and the AFC’s top-seeded team. The Broncos bounced back that time to win the next two Super Bowls.
“And believe me, that’s what I’m praying that we’re going to do these next two, three, four years is to use last year and be able to get over the hump and get to the Super Bowl and be able to win it,” Elway said.
He said he’s gone from the best job in all of sports — NFL quarterback — to the second-best — NFL executive, the one who gets to put the puzzle pieces together and give his team a shot at a championship.
“As we go into training camp, we do look good on paper and the first two weeks of training camp have been very good,” Elway said, noting that for the first time in eight years the Broncos didn’t have to adjust to a new defensive coordinator as Jack Del Rio is back and Manning’s transition to new offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who was his position coach last year, has gone smoothly.
The Three Amigos back in Elway’s playing days were Vance Johnson, Mark Jackson, and Ricky Nattiel. Welker’s addition gives the Broncos a sequel.
“I have to admit, I’m truly jealous of the weapons that Peyton gets to throw to,” Elway said. “I’m not saying that I didn’t have great weapons. But when you look at the weapons that Peyton has: Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, and a young kid that we drafted a couple of years ago in the fourth round named Julius Thomas … there’s four weapons right there.”
Elway also said he had faith the banged-up offensive line would be OK by the time the season rolled around. Tackles Ryan Clady (shoulder) and Orlando Franklin (hip) will sit out Thursday night’s preseason opener at San Francisco, and the Broncos have already lost centers J.D. Walton and Dan Koppen to knee injuries.
“You hope you can get through the preseason without too many injuries, but you’re going to have them,” Elway said. “But the bottom line is we have to figure out how to deal with those and be able to move on.”
They also have to figure out how to deal with the potential absence of Miller next month.
“Hopefully everything goes good with Von Miller, we’ll know about that coming up,” Elway said. “But I watch him in practice every single day and I will tell you there’s not a more talented football player on offense or defense that I’ve ever seen than Von Miller.
“Watching him practice day in and day out, he’s amazing to watch, he’s fun to watch. And then I get to go watch him on film, too, and go back and forth and to watch the things that he does is truly amazing. So, we have a good football team. The anticipation is there, but we have to take it one step at a time.”
AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org/poll
Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton