In many ways, it was business as usual for Peyton Manning this weekend in the deep-bayou town of Thibodaux, La., home to Nichols State University and the vaunted Manning Passing Academy. The Colts quarterback has been a fixture here at the camp his father and longtime Saints quarterback Archie Manning started 16 years ago when Peyton was just a sophomore at Tennessee, and this weekend was no different. The four-time MVP was all over the sprawling complex, chatting with the camp’s all-star roster of counselors and offering instruction to the nearly 1,200 high schoolers in attendance.
"I can't believe that it's the 16th year," Manning said. "It's always a great thing right before NFL players go to training camp that your around high school kids that love football and have a passion for it. It reenergizes Eli and I every single off-season before I go to camp.”
As familiar as these surrounding feel, however, the long shadow of the NFL lockout represents something of an unknown. After having what has been described as a "minimally invasive procedure" on his neck to fix an injure that was "definitely from the 2010 season," Manning has been forced to rehab without his accustomed
support staff of Colts’ team physicians and physical therapists.
"I've had a couple of other surgeries in the past that I have rehabbed successfully with the Colts personnel, and that one thing that I think these owners didn’t take into account,” Manning said. “For a guy rehabbing, the fact that you can't use your training room or your trainer does provide some obstacles, so that’s been a challenge. I’ve been very, very cautious and I’ve been taking it slow because in some ways I’ve been on my own."
Though Manning has enlisted his own support staff to help him recover, he stressed the fact that the familiarity he had built up with the Colts’ staff is not something that can easily be replaced.
"I've worked with other therapists but when you find a good trainer or rehab guy that you like it’s a pretty special bond. These guys know your body, so [because of] the fact that I haven’t had access to my guys and have been somewhat on my own, I've gone extra slow and have been extra cautious to make sure I don’t have any setbacks."
Though he would not elaborate on the exact status of his progress, he appeared to refrain from any throwing, instead offering the campers verbal bits of advice on the finer points of the game.
"Even though I'm still somewhat limited in what I can do I can still talk to them about fundamentals, reading coverages, footwork and mechanics," he said.
Though Manning, along with Drew Brees and Tom Brady, was one of the high profile quarterbacks to attach their name to the initial antitrust lawsuit filed against the owners, he has since stayed away from the ongoing negotiations, letting Colts player representative and longtime center Jeff Saturday keep him up to date on the
"I followed it early and it just got so exhausting because every day was the day that it was supposed to end, and that was like three months ago,” he said. "I'm at the point now where I’ve just told Jeff Saturday to call me when I can go back to the facility, because otherwise ... it's just exhausting."
Manning also suggested that his distance from the situation has allowed him to focus more on his own off-season.
"It was just so disappointing to find out that it was a long way away. I got off that daily call and that's allowed my off-season to be more settled, not being so anxious from day to day. It has carried on for a long time, and even when they do reach an agreement the paperwork is going to take some time, but I think being patient
throughout this is important and that’s what I’ve tried to do."
Manning, now 35, would not comment on his expected contract extension with the Colts that will likely make him the highest paid player in the league. Coming off consecutive offseasons affected by injury, there is the distinct possibility that Manning will start the 2011 season as the oldest starting quarterbacks in the league. While time has yet to catch up with him, it remains to be seen how long many more MVP-caliber seasons he has left in his tank.
"I've had 20 years of outstanding health, since I was a sophomore in high school," Manning said, dismissing the notion. "I had surgery last year, rehabbed it successfully and had a healthy 2010 season where I played every play. That’s my goal again this year for the 2011 season. So I don't feel old."
Hopefully Manning will get a chance to repeat his 2010 recovery.
"I certainly want to play football and I know the fans want football,” Manning said. "I do think that for both sides there is a way to reach a fair agreement. I think that's possible. When that happens we’ll see what the rules are and then we’ll follow them. That’s all we can do."