INDIANAPOLIS – Peyton Manning is two months into rehabilitation from his September neck procedure, the second one this year.
Manning is feeling fine and meeting checkpoints along the way in his recovery, and he is hopeful to return as soon as he is able to do so.
"There is not a whole lot to report," said Manning. "(I'm) still waiting for the fusion to take place. That takes place, they (doctors) thought, between two and three months. I'm going slow with that. I still have some of the same issues I had before the fusion, as far as the nerves and the regeneration. (I'm) still dealing with that, the idea being this surgery gave me the most stability for the nerves to regenerate, but that's still a process there. I go a week at a time and try to get better each week. I still have some restrictions on what I'm allowed to do. I'm still positive about things improving, but I still have work to do."
Manning said there is no defined time table currently for a return to the field.
"I don't think there really is a schedule. There's really not a schedule, and there's really not a real timeline. It's sort of how I am at different checkpoints. I would say the first of December is probably the next checkpoint. That would be three months from the surgery (and) see where I am from a strength standpoint at that time, from a conditioning standpoint. I just can't give a prediction of where I'm going to be. I don't think anybody really can. As I've said all along, this injury is one that is a little bit unpredictable. I think positively about things being good at that time, but I really can't tell you where they will be at that time."
When asked what physical steps he is taking, Manning said he is working daily and is hoping there is a change to practice with the team in about another month.
"I still have some limitations," said Manning. "I do it (rehabilitation) every day with (Director of Rehabilitation) Erin (Barill). It's not something you can do all day. You do certain exercises and movements every day, try to get a little better each week.
"The thing about it is the fact I am on the active roster. If I were in a position, if I were cleared to practice and if I were at a strength level, a conditioning level checkpoint that I were cleared, it's the greatest venue to go out and see where you are – on the practice field, as opposed to having to grab a receiver off to the side (or) go out before practice. If I were cleared and able to do that, it would be nice to be able to do that – go out and participate in a team practice where everything is right there with you, even though you probably couldn't do everything. That's a hope and a wish. As I've said all along, the roster spot is their decision. It's a hope, it's a wish. Once again, there really is no set plan because it's still about where I will be when that point arises. I think you have a couple of checkpoints coming up, and I think December is the next one."
Observers of Manning's career debate whether a return by him this year would be wise. Manning is a competitor at heart and if given a medical 'green light,' he knows what he would like to do.
"Sure, I miss playing. I really do," said the four-time NFL MVP. "If I were to get cleared to play and felt good enough to play (and) the doctor said it was okay, yeah, I would absolutely love to. That's kind of how I'm wired. That's my job, and I miss not being able to do my job. … I just can't really give you that answer as to where I am. In December, I can probably give you a more realistic answer with four games left. Would I like to? Absolutely, whether it was one game, two games, a couple of plays. I miss playing. When you've done something all your career and most (of your) sports life you've always played and the doctor says you can go play again, sure, I would like to do that. It's really hard to predict what the situation would be come December.
"I know a lot of people like to provide their thoughts and they say, 'He'd be crazy to do that.' This is all new to me. This is my first time dealing with it. All I know is, I like playing. I enjoy being out there. I miss being out there in the huddle. When I'm on that sideline looking out in the huddle even though I'm probably just 25 yards away from the huddle, it feels like I'm a million miles away. To all the sudden to have a chance to be back out there, sure, I'd love to do it. I think any natural competitor, any player who has been through injury, would tell you the same thing. I'm no different. We'll just see what the situation will be come next month."
Manning is more than just an interested daily observer of the team. With having poured 13 years into the organization and formed tight bonds, he is feeling for everyone associated with the franchise.
"It's certainly tough for everybody," he said. "This has not been any fun for any player or coach right now. I'm no different. We're all disappointed and want things to change. This is another opportunity this week against Atlanta. Hopefully, we can get something positive going and sort of change the momentum. It's tough in a football sense. There are certainly other tough things going on in the world. I'll just say it's not a lot of fun."
With the team seeking its first victory as the second half of the season begins, outside speculation is happening about the team's possible 2012 draft position. It is something Manning dismisses as a topic of discussion.
"That's a lot of speculation," said Manning. "I don't think that's fair to the players that are playing, to speculate on what draft choice the Colts will have. We might win eight in a row starting Sunday, and I certainly hope that we do. It's hard for me to speculate on things like that when I'm not playing. Jeff Saturday and Reggie Wayne, these guys are out there fighting for their lives, trying to win every game. We've never talked about what draft pick we were going to have for the past 13 years. I don't think it's fair to do now. There will be times to answer all those questions."
Former quarterback and current commentator Phil Simms, a friend of Manning's, claimed recently Manning would not let the club select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck if Manning were healthy. Manning good-naturedly kidded Simms about his recent speculation.
"I don't talk to Phil. Phil doesn't talk to me," said Manning. "He did text me after that (comment), saying, 'Hey, sorry to drag your name into this.' I wrote back, 'Phil, I don't know what you're talking about.' He said, 'On my show, Inside the NFL, I made this statement.' I said, 'Phil, I hate to break it to you, but I don't watch your show, along with a lot of other people I don't think that watch that show.' (He's) giving himself a little more credit than probably was merited. … I've never made any statements. Anything that's going on, I'm discussing it with Coach (Jim) Caldwell, Bill Polian. Everyone's in full awareness of what's going on and where things are. I'm just talking now because it's two month from the surgery. I thought that's kind of another update to say really nothing's going on. I'll talk again in December when it will be three months, and we'll see where things are at that time. I hope things are really better at that time, but it's really hard to predict."
Manning signed a multi-year contract extension prior to this season. He was asked if the contract and his physical condition are things that concern him routinely.
"It's not things I think about right now," said Manning. "I think about today, trying to be better by tomorrow at three o'clock. I say, 'Did I get a little better this week?' I understand those things are there. The contract, I was the one that helped construct it in the manner that it is. It's a one-year deal, with a four-year extension, if you will. That was my recommendation. I wasn't healthy when I signed the contract. If I'm not healthy in February (2012), I think it's fair for the Colts to be able to make their decision there. The other reason for the December (target), the ability to possibly practice, would be for the Colts to have a fair evaluation of where I am. We're in full disclosure with each other. I think December is a next checkpoint for a month to see where we are. We may be the same where we are. I sure hope we're better, but it really is hard to predict."
When asked if he thought he had earned the right to dictate to the team whether he would be the quarterback or not, Manning believes the organization has the position to make that decision.
"I don't think you can make that statement," said Manning. "The team has a right to know where you are physically and what your health is. Everybody has decisions to be made. Bill (Polian) and I have been completely honest with each other and up front with each other. That will all shake out. I would say December is a checkpoint. I would say February is another checkpoint. We have some time before those checkpoints arrive. I sure hope to make progress before then. We'll sit down and talk about it when those things arrive."
Manning also was asked about Caldwell and what the head coach is going through this season. Manning, as always, is firm in his affinity and respect for the classy Caldwell.
"Jim Caldwell is my friend, and he is our coach," said Manning. "We are behind him. We want to win for so many reasons, but you always want to win for your head coach."