Manning looks for ways to stay healthy

Updated: June 5, 2008, 4:28 PM ET
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- Peyton Manning spent the past decade building a reputation as one of the NFL's most dependable quarterbacks. He wants to keep that image intact however long he plays.

The two-time league MVP who has never missed a game with the Colts revised this year's offseason program, taking a page straight out of Brett Favre's playbook by throwing a little less and conditioning a little more.

"I try to be smart in preserving my arm, so I had our trainer call the trainers for (Dan) Marino and (John) Elway and Favre to see what you do after 32 because it's kind of uncharted territory," Manning said Thursday, the final day of this week's voluntary minicamp. "You have to do a little adjusting. You modify the number of throws and make sure they're all quality throws instead of staying after practice all the time."

For Manning, a relentless worker entering his 11th NFL season, it's a real change.

He has become one of the league's most prominent personalities thanks to his impeccable resume, record-setting achievements and the television commercials that demonstrate his understated sense of humor. . In his early days, Manning was routinely one of the first players on the practice field and one of the last to leave.

But if he hopes to spend the final half of his career winning championships, the 32-year-old Manning understands he must use some discretion, too.

Manning has thrown 5,405 passes in 160 regular-season games, 522 more in the postseason and countless others in preseason games, practices, training camp and minicamp. Only two players in league history -- Favre and Marino -- ever threw more than 8,000 passes in their careers.

If Manning can remain healthy and maintains his current pace, he'd join Marino and Favre within five seasons.

Given Manning's track record, it's certainly possible.

His 160 consecutive starts are the second-most in league history, trailing only Favre's 253.

Clearly, though, Favre's retirement in March got Manning thinking about his own future in football, which doesn't appear to be ending anytime soon.

"I didn't really pick a certain age to play or the way I'd continue to play in those later years," Manning said. "If I wasn't starting or I couldn't make the throws I used to, I don't think I'd continue playing. I'd still want to be a productive player."

So the Colts are doing everything they can to make sure Manning sticks around as long as possible.

Head coach-in-waiting Jim Caldwell has been counting each of Manning's passes since he became the Colts' quarterbacks coach in 2002. Coach Tony Dungy also has spoken with Manning about how best to stay in shape during the second part of his career.

The consensus: Limit any unnecessary strains on Manning's shoulder, especially in the offseason.

"There's a difference between 25 and 30, there's a difference in terms of the throws he makes," Dungy said. "I remember talking to Fran Tarkenton when I was in college, and I think you need to do different things to keep yourself healthy."

Practice regimens are only part of the changes Manning is making.

As the established veteran and second-longest tenured Colts player, Manning increasingly finds himself surrounded by starstruck new teammates who know him better from John Madden's video games or ESPN Classic games than as the son of former NFL quarterback Archie Manning.

That impression, Manning believes, can make it more difficult for the rookies to adjust.

"I've had a couple of 'Mr. Mannings,' and I squelched those right away. I said, 'Call me Peyton,' " Manning said. "The strange thing for me is the autographs. I'm used to signing autographs for kids or friends or whatever, but they're coming up asking for my autograph because they're a fan. I always say, 'You're not a fan, you're my teammate, and we need to be equals here.' "

Manning, of course, still has big plans.

The Colts again find themselves as one of this year's Super Bowl favorites, and there are more records for Manning to pursue including Favre's mark for consecutive starts.

But Manning realizes the only way he can continue winning and breaking records is to take care of his right shoulder now.

"I guess I still have good recall on the games, they just don't seem like they were eight or nine years ago," he said. "It is sometimes hard to believe that it's been that long. At the same time, I feel excited about all the work and my goal is to be as productive in my 11th year as I was in my second or sixth year."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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