Peyton Manning keeps defenses — and suitors — guessing

Reporting from Denver -- Peyton Manning has his doctorate in deception, and that’s one of his major strengths as a quarterback.

Consider how he fooled virtually everyone in the sweepstakes for his services, how the outside world interpreted all the logical signs — but they weren’t the right signs at all.

He was a college star in Tennessee? His wife grew up in Memphis? The team just signed his buddy, Steve Hutchinson? Peyton’s going to the Titans.


San Francisco secretly scouted him? He’ll be protected by a talented young offensive line and backed up by the NFC’s No. 1 defense? And in that lukewarm division? He’s bound for the 49ers.

Guess again.

Manning was so inscrutable through the team-shopping process that just before he informed Denver he was headed there, the Broncos were concerned they might be third-place finishers in a three-horse race.

And just think of all Manning’s gesticulation at the line of scrimmage, forcing defenses to tip their hand as the final seconds tick off the play clock.

“He goes to extreme measures to make sure they don’t waste plays,” said former NFL coach Jon Gruden, a friend of Manning. “He researches the defense with dummy snap counts, dummy audibles; a lot of it is just an act for 15 to 17 seconds before he triggers the play.

“If it’s a two-deep zone, that’s when you’re going to see him run the football, or you’re going to see some of the best Cover 2 passes of all time. He does a great job of using the clock to see whatever defense you’re in, and then he takes whatever defense you’re in and uses it against you.”

Denver’s John Elway is not a bit concerned that Manning will have a problem transitioning to a new offense, even though the former Colts star was in the same system for each of his 14 NFL seasons.

“I told him, ‘You’ll have it down in two weeks,’” said Elway, Broncos executive vice president of football operations.

Actually, everybody’s going to be hitting the books. The Broncos, who switched offensive systems in less than a week when they went from Kyle Orton to Tim Tebow, will have plenty of time to put a new one in place by the time training camp rolls around.

The new system will be a hybrid of what the team was doing and what Manning prefers.

“Terminology-wise, the things that we do that [the Colts] did, we’ll keep our terminology,” Elway said. “Anything that’s new, we’ll just use Peyton’s terminology. Sometimes, it will be teaching one guy what 52 guys already know, and sometimes it will be teaching 52 guys what one guy knows.”

Manning’s ability to sell the play-action fake was one of the keys to his success in Indianapolis, that knack for freezing the linebackers, who aren’t sure if the play is a run or pass. That hiccup of hesitation creates opportunities for an offense.

“That’s the thing that when [Broncos Coach John Fox] competed against him was his biggest concern,” Elway said.

Manning is quick to point out that he’s the quarterback, not the offensive coordinator: “I’m not going to be involved in personnel decisions, not in the least bit.”

Although he doesn’t see this being a brief final chapter, he realizes the urgency of his career clock winding down.

“I’m planning on playing for a long time,” he said. “I realize that I don’t have 14 years left by any means, but at the same time, this isn’t something that I’m building a foundation for. This is a ‘now’ situation. We’re trying to win now. We’re going to do whatever we can to win right now, and that’s all I’m thinking about — getting back to the way I want to be, and trying to win now.”

NFL meetings to begin

Team owners, executives and coaches will convene in Palm Beach, Fla., this week for the annual league meetings. Several rules changes are being considered.

Among the proposals:

— Expanding the playoff overtime rule to the regular season. The current playoff rule ensures both teams will get a chance to touch the ball in the extra period, as long as the team that receives the opening kickoff doesn’t win the game with a touchdown on its first possession.

— Changing the replay system. Buffalo has proposed scrubbing the concept of coaches’ challenges, instead relying on the replay official in the booth to overturn incorrect calls.

— Automatically reviewing all plays that involve turnovers. Last season, the league started examining every scoring play, and that didn’t appear to slow the game significantly.

— Moving the trade deadline from the sixth week of the regular season to the eighth week, encouraging trade activity during the season.