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Wednesday, October 13
Updated: October 14, 1:02 PM ET
Manning proves a quick study

By Ron Pollack
Pro Football Weekly

Here is a news flash nobody on the Colts' schedule wants to hear: You can forget about a sophomore slump for Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning.

Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning has turned out to be a golden pick for the Indianapolis Colts.
Taken one pick before Ryan Leaf at the top of the 1998 draft, Manning continues to get better by leaps and bounds.

Leaf leads his team in stupid, immature acts. Manning just leads his team.

The only thing that will silence Leaf's critics right now is a Midas muffler. Manning continues to show the Midas touch.

Next stop: superstardom for the runaway train that is Manning's rapidly developing career.

"He has improved a lot, and he was pretty darn good last season," said Patriots defensive coordinator Steve Sidwell, who got a first-hand view of Manning in Week 2.

"He just seems more confident," Patriots receiver Terry Glenn added.

The Chargers saw more of Manning's growth as a quarterback than they cared to in Week 3.

"Peyton Manning just threw for over 400 yards, and you just don't do that in this league," said Chargers linebacker Junior Seau after his team's 27-19 loss to the Colts.

Added Chargers quarterback Jim Harbaugh: "He's picked up right where he left off last year."

Peyton Manning
Indianapolis Colts
85 141 1185 10 6 93.2

That's a bit like saying the Beatles picked up right where they left off after their first hit album. Reserve a spot at the top of the charts, because that's where Manning is heading at this rate.

How has Manning improved? How much time do you have?

Sidwell says Manning's knowledge of the game is better.

Bruce Arians, the Colts' quarterbacks coach, says Manning's knowledge of the position has also taken a dramatic jump.

"There's throws he couldn't make (last season that he can now), either from not understanding where it wanted to go so his body wouldn't allow him to, to where his eyes would take his hands and feet to places they didn't need to be," Arians said. "And as a quarterback, your eyes lead your hands and feet, so they'll get you out of whack sometimes when you (are) throwing to your right (but) you're looking over to the left and your shoulders are not in good throwing position. And he's worked really hard to keep his body in throwing position when he wants to look people off or move his eyes around the field."

Manning's arm is also stronger this season, according to Arians. Furthermore, Manning survived all the blitzes opposing teams threw at him a year ago, when he threw a whopping 575 passes. That, in turn, has made it seem as though the game has slowed down this year. Plus, well, the list could go on and on. The bottom line is a quarterback who looks a lot more seasoned than a player who, in reality, is barely into his second year in pro football.

"He looks like a third-year guy," said one front-office executive from an NFC team.

Said Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson: "He's outstanding. I made the statement to some people the other day that if I was going to start a franchise and look around the entire league, he's a guy I would definitely consider."

Part of the reason for Manning's sensational progress is his preparation. What George Burns and Groucho Marx were to cigars, Peyton Manning is to notebooks. Joined at the hip, so to speak.

According to one Colts insider, Manning takes notes in meetings "even on things that have been gone over 10,000 times."

Said Arians: "He goes through notebooks left and right. That's his playbook."

If you think that being a human Xerox machine will result in nothing more than a cramp in the hand, you're missing the boat.

"You learn three ways," Arians said. "You see, you write and you read. If you just watch the film and you listen to what the coaches tell you, you can learn it, but you can't study it. When it's Friday night and Saturday night, you have to have something written down somewhere. And if it's just your playbook reading, it's not what you wrote down. That's the last part of the learning curve, of doing it all and then being able to study exactly what you heard and perceived as you wrote it down."

Mentioning that Manning likes to study and is a preparation nut is about as much of a scoop as reporting that the sun came up this morning. What you might not know about Manning is how competitive he is and what a great leader he has already become.

Let's start with the competitiveness. Statistically, Manning had one of the great rookie campaigns you'll ever see last season. The beautiful thing about the young man is the fact that he engaged in about as much self-satisfied chest-pounding as a deer on the opening day of hunting season.

"Going 3-13 (as a team), I didn't have a whole lot of fun last year," Manning said.

"You can't get into stats, can't get into comparisons with other quarterbacks. You've got to just concentrate on your team and helping your team win games."

That's what leadership is all about. Manning already is acting like a well-respected veteran in that regard.

On some NFL teams, the receivers don't like to put in extra work with their quarterbacks. That's not the case in Indianapolis. During a minicamp this offseason, when others were off eating lunch, Manning kept the receivers on the practice field an extra half hour. His example began to rub off. In time, the receivers were going to Manning and asking to put in extra work with him. The result is that everyone is on the same page better than ever on three-step drops vs. five-step drops vs. seven-step drops. A sixth sense develops on whether a high or low pass is coming. Timing is perfected.

Manning also displays a big-picture sense of leadership. During preseason games, wide receiver Marvin Harrison was catching most of the balls and the TD passes. Manning approached the other receivers, including E.G. Green, and said, "Hey, the regular season is here now, and all the stats are erased. Just be involved. Don't think the ball is not coming to you. Expect the ball on every single play."

In the Colts' 31-14 victory over the Bills in Week 1, Green caught five passes for 124 yards, including a 50-yard reception.

The extra work, the communication, the pep talks between a quarterback and his receivers -- all are among the most underrated aspects of the game.

Just look at Vikings backup quarterback Jeff George. Like Manning, George once was the first player taken in the draft. He even started out with the Colts. But for all of the expectations, George has been a huge disappointment as a pro.

"George has got amazing talent, but he has no rapport with his receivers at all," said the NFC front-office executive.

That won't ever be a problem for Manning.

"What we have to watch is that he doesn't run the receivers to death," Arians said.

After all, Manning's approach to the game is like a car without brakes. Full speed ahead. Red lights are meant to be ignored on the football field.

Most players have coaches hounding them to work harder. Manning just might be the first player in the history of the game to be told by his coaches to ease up.

"The one thing we did when (last) season was over, because he had put so much into it, we begged him to just go take some time off," Arians said.

At the rate Manning is improving, it won't be long before opposing defenses are begging him to do the same.

Pro Football Weekly Material from Pro Football Weekly.
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