INDIANAPOLIS – Quarterback Peyton Manning has been cleared by the club's medical staff for some time now to continue working to improve his physical condition following September neck surgery.
Last Wednesday, Manning worked with some selected teammates after the club concluded its practice. The on-field work was a prescribed rehabilitation session that consisted of approximately 30 throws and seven or eight handoffs. On hand with Manning, the medical staff and others were running back Joseph Addai, center Jeff Saturday, wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez and a practice squad receiver. Manning wore pads and a helmet, which he is allowed to do by rule in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Indianapolis plays Houston on Thursday in Lucas Oil Stadium, and the first practice of the week was today. When the team went through its practice paces, Manning was not part of the team's efforts.
"He's (Manning) rehabbing. I think that's what I can say best to you," said Head Coach Jim Caldwell. "He's not going to practice at all with us the next two weeks. One reason why is it's a short week this week. We're probably going to operate at a little bit different pace. He feels, and the doctors and guys he's working with feel, he could probably be a little better served kind of working in his own drill work. He can put together some things to certainly enhance his rehab.
"He's also concerned about not taking any reps away from Dan (Orlovsky) and Curtis (Painter) in terms of this week's preparation. He's going to focus in on more of the rehab and probably the rehab more so outside the confines of a practice session. … He's rehabbing. He's getting better. He's improving."
Caldwell attended last week's prescribed on-field rehabilitation session, but declined to offer any opinion on Manning's work.
"It's tough to give, from my vantage point at least, a detailed sort of description of a rehab session," said Caldwell. "That's basically what it is. He has a little ways to go yet, and he's working toward it. I think he's making progress."
Colts Vice Chairman Bill Polian indicated today Manning threw a number of times with decent velocity at ranges of approximately 20 to 25 yards.
Manning's throws last week were scripted at his request. The intent was that he would make specific throws that the team would run in a game. The scripting of the action was under the auspices of the strength and conditioning and therapy staff to best ramp up the rehabilitation. On Thursday of last week, the doctors determined that Manning would continue to rehabilitate but would not play this year.
Today, Polian outlined what Manning's schedule would be for rest of season, then the offseason.
"We know he'll be in rehabilitation sessions, which involves throwing," said Polian. "Whether it will involve practice or not remains to be seen. As I said Sunday, the practice that he can do is circumscribed. The question is does he get more out of practicing or does he get more out of going through the rehabilitation session on the side? They're both rehabilitation sessions. The question is which setting does he get more from?"
While the organization knows Manning wants to return as quickly as possible, it always has been a matter that would be controlled wholly by the medical staff.
"My feelings were that the doctors and the medical people were going to make that determination," said Polian on Manning's progress. "We've never wavered on that. That's been the determining factor from day one. I know he wanted to get out there badly. That's his nature. I don't blame him. That's the way he is. That's way he's accomplished as much as he's accomplished, but the medical situation is what it is."
All players go through a season-ending physical examination immediately after the last game. Polian noted Manning would not pass the physical and would continue, uninterrupted, with his rehabilitation schedule. There are things that must progress in Manning's work.
"He has to meet objective measurements set by the doctors and rehabilitation people with respect to arm strength, with respect to triceps strength, and that will be evidenced by throwing and other objective measurements," said Polian. "He's not going to stop throwing in December."
When asked if he and the organization would possibly know where Manning would be in early March, Polian declined speculation because of the nature of the rehabilitation.
"I do not know," said Polian. "I've said since September and I've quoted all of the doctors that we've spoke to, paraphrased them, when they said that there's no potion, there's no surgery, there's no manipulation, there's no machine that can tell you what the timetable for regeneration of a nerve will be. That's the doctors' opinion, and that's the one we accept as being appropriate."
Saturday and Manning have been teammates since the center's second season. They have made multiple Pro Bowls together, won division championships, conference championships and a world championship as a tandem. They have started 170 regular-season games together, the most ever by an NFL quarterback-center tandem, and they own a .706 winning percentage in those games (120-50). Manning (141) and Saturday (131) have the most and third-most appearances in victories in Colts history, with only quarterback and Hall-of-Famer John Unitas (132) ranking between the two. Saturday was happy to see his teammate return.
"He (Manning) is my guy. I love him," said Saturday. "I love playing with him and anything I can do to help him get back (I'll do). It feels good to see him (with) pads on and cleats on and going under center and in the shotgun. We had fun. Man, this is what we do for a living. I think both of us love this game. Anything I do to help him, I was real excited to see it."
Saturday kiddingly declined to acknowledge if there were the same 'feel' with Manning under center as there had been previously, and he politely refrained from describing last week's session.
"You ask him (how he threw)," laughed Saturday. "The last thing I'm going to do is evaluate quarterback talent. Maybe in my next job I will do that."