ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- John Elway insisted that every one of the Denver Broncos was better the second Peyton Manning put his signature on that nearly $100 million contract last spring.
Indeed, all have prospered from the arrival of the meticulous quarterback whose work ethic generated, as coach John Fox also predicted, a lifting of all boats.
Teammates on both sides of the ball are better. So are the coaches. Heck, even the team's ticket sellers and concessionaries have upped their games.
While Manning was turning what began as a season of mystery into one of magnificence, several of his cohorts enjoyed breakout or bounce-back years as the Broncos (13-3) thundered into the playoffs as the AFC's top seed and winners of 11 in a row.
Manning sets his standards so high that "it just makes the players work harder and want to do better," said receiver Brandon Stokley, who traded in retirement for a reunion with the four-time MVP. "With Peyton, everything has to be so precise, detail-oriented, it just rubs off on everybody else."
Players see the league's most decorated quarterback working as though he's on the bubble to even make the team, and they take heed.
"I think when you have
Young receivers (Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas) and cornerbacks (Chris Harris, Tony Carter) blossomed under Manning's tutelage. Tailback Knowshon Moreno revived his career. Guard Zane Beadles broke through in his third season and linebacker Wesley Woodyard did so in his fifth. Von Miller, last year's top defensive rookie, became a bona fide superstar, and several veterans such as Stokley looked young again.
Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, the architect of the hybrid offense Manning ran so adroitly in putting up numbers that surpassed those from all four of his MVP seasons, is such a hot head coaching candidate that he's holding his very own jobs fair this weekend in Denver, meeting with one team after another.
Manning helped them all do their jobs better over the last 10 months.
It all began in the spring on local high school football fields with receivers working hard at not rounding off their routes lest they get an earful from No. 18 and then at team headquarters with cornerbacks picking Manning's brain to figure out how he was picking them apart.
It grew fast from there, the Broncos getting better and bolder by the week as the 36-year-old quarterback put to rest any lingering doubts about his health or age.
The Broncos' offense rose from 23rd in the league last season to fourth, and Denver's defense jumped from 20th to second. They scored 481 points a year after scoring 309. And their defense allowed 289 a year after yielding 390.
"Well, it makes you grow up faster because, for one, he's not going to let you get away with constant mistakes," Champ Bailey said. "Maybe one here, one over there, but the same mistakes over and over, he doesn't want you in there. And that's the same way on defense. You make too many mistakes, you're not going to play."
The ones that did play sure did well.
About two dozen players on the Broncos' 53-man roster put up their best statistical seasons in 2012. Others had the best performances in years.
"I'd say on both sides of the balls and special teams, there's guys that have been playing some of their best football," Decker said. "Offensively, as skill players, having Peyton Manning has helped tremendously, helped the line tremendously, and defensively, with the scheme they're doing and how they're doing, it helps everybody."
Miller and Elvis Dumervil combined for 29½ sacks in large part because of the leads Manning's offense provided, allowing the pair of pass-rushers to get after the quarterback.