Peyton Manning is happy the voluntary workout period has arrived; brother Eli is preparing for TV; Matthew Stafford is just glad he is healthy; and the Texans find a lot of new faces in Houston.
AROUND THE NFL: Peyton Manning throwing; Eli rehearsing; Brees is absent
While his Super Bowl-winning brother Eli is preparing for a stint on US television comedy series Saturday Night Live, Peyton Manning is back in his element, barking out calls, throwing passes and working out with his new teammates.
It sure beats watching, wondering and worrying.
He is still finding his comfort zone with the Denver Broncos after spending 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, but Manning is back serving as both quarterback and coach on the football field instead of pacing the sideline and wondering when his neck is going to allow him to return to the huddle.
Manning and his new teammates reported to the Broncos' headquarters Monday morning for the start of the team's off-season conditioning program. After some work in the classroom and weight room, Manning threw passes to his new receivers during some on-field work without the coaches, who are not allowed to join them outdoors until the official off-season organised training camps start up in May.
"Everybody's been looking forward to this day for some time now," Manning said. "I thought it was a productive first day, but we've got a lot of work to do."
He did not want to make any rash judgments about his receiving corps and although he said he was pleased with his first official workout since signing a five-year, $96 million (Dh352.6m)deal with Denver on March 20, Manning declined to talk about his health or the progress he has made as he regains his arm strength following a series of neck operations that sidelined him for all of last season and led to his departure from Indy.
"I'm not going to get into these weekly reports. I've kind of been there and done that all fall of last year," said Manning, who is rehabbing under the direction of head athletic trainer Steve "the Greek" Antonopulos and new strength and conditioning coach Luke Richesson. "I'm enjoying being under one roof, being supervised by those two guys."
Wide receiver Eric Decker, who has caught more passes from Manning than anyone else over the last month thanks to a series of workouts at local high schools, said the four-time MVP's passes were precise and powerful.
"I'm not his doctor, I don't know how to speak on his health, but catching balls from him, it looks like there's nothing wrong to me," Decker said. "He's throwing great balls, he's getting the work in just like we're getting the work in, knocking the rust off. I see no issues at this point."
Although he has been putting in a lot of miles finding remote high school fields to practice on, Manning said he has not really gotten to know his new city yet.
"It's been all business," he said. "Everybody's asking where I'm living. I've been living over here in the facility."
And rehabbing, lifting weights and studying his new playbook.
Manning said he was glad to throw the ball around at team headquarters rather than sneaking around to the local high school fields to play catch with Decker and good friend Brandon Stokley, who signed a one-year deal to return to the Broncos on Monday.
Manning, 36, has always embraced the off-season regimen, and he said he is sure he was not the only one who was relieved when NFL teams opened their doors for the voluntary off-season conditioning programs that were scuttled last year by the league's lockout.
"I am [excited], there's no question. I think a lot of players around the NFL will tell you the lockout threw a lot of players off their routine and what they're used to," Manning said. "So, I [like] the fact that everybody's allowed to be in the facility now working out under one roof, we can throw on the field now, right next to the weight room now as opposed to going to a high school. That was what you had to do, but it's nice to be able to do everything here and have some time with the coaches, as well."
Because the coaches cannot join them on the practice fields until next month, the players run the on-field portion of the program themselves, and this arrangement is perfectly suited for Manning, who will direct the installation of the Broncos' new no-huddle offense.
Manning, though, said he felt like the new kid in school.
"I think a number of us did. I was with Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen, Caleb [Hanie]; the same way. We have some new guys. So, I'm learning as we go, as well," Manning said. "Certainly when you get out there on the field and you're throwing passes to receivers, you feel a little more comfortable there, as far as knowing what you're doing a little bit."
Meanwhile, live from New York, it is Peyton's younger brother, Eli: the New York Giants' quarterback will be the host on US television's Saturday Night Live comedy show on May 5.
It is ground Peyton already forged when, in 2007, he appeared in a very funny "United Way" skit in which he coached youngsters, hit them with passes in the back and stomach and even banished one to a portable bathroom for 20 minutes.
Eli has no stage experience, noting he was never even in a school play, though he's done several commercials.
"It's something that's been offered a few times and I've turned it down. But it seemed like the right time. I felt ready to do it and I'm excited about that opportunity," he said. "I'm a little nervous about it, but excited also. It should be a lot of fun. It will take some work, but it should be something I'll always remember."
Peyton said: "I'm excited for him. He'll do a good job."
Asked if he'd make a guest appearance to help his little brother out, Peyton said he has a prior commitment, "so I won't be able to make it. But I'll be tuned in."
AROUND THE LEAGUE
CINCINNATI BENGALS: Jordan Shipley got together with quarterback Andy Dalton last week in Texas and ran a few pass routes, an encouraging developing for the Cincinnati Bengals offense.
Their slot receiver is recovering nicely from knee surgery that wiped out most of his 2011 season. He was still limited as the Bengals started their voluntary offseason workouts at Paul Brown Stadium, but expected to be fully recovered by training camp.
"Some days I feel really good," Shipley said. "Some days I feel close. At this point in the process, it's how you feel that day. I want to go out and do everything, and they tell me you have to wait, heal up. As of today, I'm still in the rehab process."
Shipley's uneventful recovery is an important off-season development for the Bengals, whose next big challenge is finding more receivers to complement him and AJ Green.
The Bengals went to the play-offs as a wild card last season with Dalton and Green emerging as rookies. One off-season priority is to expand a group of receivers that is not even big enough to fill a depth chart. Jerome Simpson is an unrestricted free agent serving a jail sentence - his locker was empty on Monday except for a wooden stool and a dozen plastic hangers, and no nameplate.
Andre Caldwell signed with Denver last month, leaving Cincinnati without two of its top three receivers from 2011. Simpson was second on the team in catches by a receiver with 50 and Caldwell was third with 37.
The Bengals have extra draft picks next week, including two in the first round, which gives them a chance to fill a lot of their holes. They also could use an offensive guard and a cornerback. Somehow, they need a No 2 receiver to take the coverage away from Green.
"I feel like we've got guys here that last year were pushing for playing time," Dalton said. "Obviously, if we can get another weapon, that would be great. I'm all for it. But we'll see what happens. The draft's crazy. Everybody knows that."
DETROIT LIONS: Matthew Stafford was hanging out in Georgia a year ago, recovering from surgery on his right shoulder and waiting for the NFL's labor problems to end.
The quarterback, his throwing arm and the league are in much better shape these days.
"It's nice to not have to put myself back together," Stafford said as he joined his teammates for their first voluntary workout of the year to lift weights, run and throw passes to receivers without coaches allowed to observe.
Stafford threw for 5,000-plus yards and 41 touchdowns last season to lead Detroit to its first play-off appearance since the 1999 season. The Lions were able to keep all the players they wanted, other than cornerback Eric Wright, who left to sign with Tampa Bay, and also kept much of their coaching staff together.
"We're building," Stafford said. "We're not starting from scratch."
While the Lions are trying to ride the momentum created last season, Stafford said coach Jim Schwartz had an off-the-field message to deliver during Monday's team meeting after two players were in the news recently - defensive tackle Nick Fairley was arrested earlier this month on a charge of possessing marijuana and running back Mikel Leshoure had marijuana with him during two traffic stops in less than a month, according to authorities.
"We've come so far, we don't want anything to hold us back," Stafford recalled Schwartz telling the team. "I think everybody knows that. We're a mature team. Obviously, some of the guys that were having troubles off the field are younger, but they'll figure it out and we'll be there to help them along."
Stafford said Fairley and Leshoure did not address the team.
The Lions started this week's workouts without defensive end Cliff Avril, who is still hoping to sign a long-term deal instead of a one-year contract with the non-exclusive franchise tag. The designation allows other teams to negotiate with Avril that are willing to give up a pair of first-round picks to sign him, knowing the Lions would have the option of matching the offer.
Linebacker DeAndre Levy and offensive tackle Corey Hilliard did work out with teammates after signing their tenders as restricted free agents, as did defensive tackle Sammie Hill even though he had not signed his tender.
"Everybody is happy to be back together," Stafford said. "We finished with a good season last year and we're looking to build off of it for this year."
HOUSTON TEXANS: Former Dallas linebacker Bradie James jumped at the chance to reunite with Wade Phillips and Reggie Herring in Houston.
The rest of the Texans? Well, they began spring conditioning drills with many of the familiar faces missing.
Houston went 10-6 in 2011, winning its division for the first time and earning the franchise's first play-off berth. The roster then underwent significant change in free agency, with career sacks leader Mario Williams, tight end Joel Dreessen, right tackle Eric Winston and right guard Mike Brisiel among those who signed with other teams.
The Texans also traded All-Pro linebacker DeMeco Ryans to Philadelphia.
Houston acquired the 6-foot-2, 246-pound James to fill the void left by Ryans' departure. James played his first nine NFL seasons with the Cowboys, including the four-year span when Phillips was the head coach and defensive coordinator, and Herring became his linebackers coach.
"Wade is kind of laid-back, but not too laid back," James said. "If you want to get Wade riled up, miss an assignment and he'll get after you. Reggie is the guy that is a 'spit on the side of your face' type of guy. He's just on you like an old nagging woman, but they complement each other. You can just tell how the guys rallied around those two last year and there is talent all over the field out here."
The Texans say James is a better fit for Phillips' 3-4 alignment than Ryans, who was drafted along with Williams and Winston by Houston in 2006, coach Gary Kubiak's first season. Tight end Owen Daniels, the last remaining holdover from the class, thinks the Texans were lucky to keep the roster intact for that long.
"That's just part of the business," Daniels said. "Obviously, I wish all those guys the best, but we've still got a lot of good players here and a lot of guys that contributed and a lot of up-and-coming guys that we're excited about. I try to focus not necessarily more on who's gone. You have to give them credit for helping and contributing to get us where we got to, but a lot of the guys here have been working hard to continue that process."
Quarterback Matt Schaub did not go anywhere, and he said he is "right on schedule" in his recovery from a broken right foot that sidelined him for the final six games and the play-offs. He had a procedure last week to remove pins and screws from his foot, and he expects to be fully healed by the time training camp begins.
"It's hard for me to tell you a certain date, or June or something like that," he said. "All I know is come time for training camp, I'm going to be 100 percent ready to go and that's all that really matters, in my mind."
The Texans set a franchise record for yards rushing (2,448) and ranked second in rushing offense (153 yards per game) in 2011, a key to their first playoff appearance. Winston did not miss a game between 2007-11 and Brisiel started 25 games over the past two seasons.
Rashad Butler, who spent most of last season on injured reserve with an elbow injury, will take Winston's spot; Antoine Caldwell will take over at right guard after making only three starts there last season.
Schaub expects an easy transition.
"They are guys that have played for us and played in this system and played in this league, so they have experience," he said. "Looking forward to just getting them out there and getting a more integral role in what we are doing."
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: The Saints completed their first day of voluntary workouts without quarterback Drew Brees.
Brees was in New York to join players' union officials at NFL offices to discuss the Saints' bounty programme, which has resulted in the suspension of head coach Sean Payton for the entire 2012 season. While Brees has not been connected to the bounty system, he is helping the union represent players who may be punished in the scandal.
Payton's suspension started the same day his players began showing up at the team's suburban New Orleans headquarters for conditioning and weight-lifting. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt is in charge until his six-game suspension starts.
It is not clear when Brees might join Saints teammates for workouts.
He is seeking a long-term contract extension.
* Associated Press