ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Though his physical condition is no longer a big question mark for Peyton Manning, when he looks around at training camp, he must feel like he’s starting over again.
Manning lined up for his first snaps Thursday behind an offensive line that has been shuffled, in front of a running back who took only about 25 percent of the snaps last year and looking down the line at some pass catchers, who 12 months ago, were either bit players or playing somewhere else.
The quarterback who thrived on the familiarity of playing with the same receivers — Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison — same tight end — Dallas Clark — and same running backs — either Edgerrin James or Joseph Addai — year after year in Indianapolis, is now having to adjust to a revamped offensive roster to start his third year in Denver.
Bottom line: “Just because you did certain things last year means nothing as far as this upcoming season,” Manning said. “I’ve always felt the NFL does not owe you anything.”
But even by an NFL roster’s constantly shuffling standards, the Broncos did some major reorganizing around their franchise quarterback — the 43-8 loss to Seattle in the Super Bowl exposing too many problems for the AFC champions to stand pat.
The line will be different with the return of Ryan Clady at left tackle and the shifting of Orlando Franklin, who had a poor Super Bowl, from right tackle to left guard. Montee Ball will replace Knowshon Moreno at running back.
Meanwhile, Emmanuel Sanders replaces Eric Decker at receiver. And just to accentuate the feel Thursday, former No. 5 receiver Andre Caldwell was getting reps in place of Demaryius Thomas, who was excused to attend his grandmother’s funeral.
“We’re certainly looking for continuity and chemistry with the new players,” Manning said.
“Every year you have to establish that particular team’s identity. We’re in the process of doing that right now.”
John Elway, who put this roster together, said he hopes part of the new identity will take some of the focus off Manning, much the same way he became less of a focal point in his final years, which produced his two Super Bowl wins.
“I think that we’ve got to get to be where we’re a complete football team,” Elway said. “We can’t rely on ‘18’ to win it because he can’t win it by himself.”
While Elway was talking more about his offseason revamp of the defense, he has also been making plenty of moves to shore up the parts around Manning, who set records for yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55) last season and also won his fifth Most Valuable Player Award.
Ball, last year’s second-round pick, is viewed as a long-term prospect at running back. The Broncos spent this year’s second-round pick on receiver Cody Latimer, in the hopes he’ll be catching passes from Manning and his successor for years to come.
In practice Thursday, Manning looked often toward tight end Julius Thomas, the 6-foot-5, 250-pound pass catcher with whom the Broncos are hoping to sign a long-term contract extension.
“An important part of the team this year,” Manning called him.
And a familiar one — something Manning almost certainly didn’t think he’d be searching for this hard come Year 3 with the Broncos.
“That’s probably the worst thing about football, is when you lose great players from the previous year, who are also great guys,” Manning said. “We’ll certainly miss guys like Eric and Knowshon — guys you’ve played in a lot of big games with, guys you put a lot of sweat and work in with in this facility and this weight room.
“But it’s an opportunity for other guys to step up.”