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Manning set to play next week

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Like a lot of Bears fans, Peyton Manning really is looking forward to Thursday.

The first exhibition for the Bears also will be the first time Manning has played in a game since a playoff loss to the Jets after the 2010 season.

His Broncos debut at Soldier Field will be another step in his comeback from neck surgery.

Broncos coach John Fox said the coaching staff has not mapped out fully how much Manning will play, but indicated he likely will treat him the way he has treated other starting quarterbacks in the first exhibition and play Manning for the first two series.

He said he does not think a need exists to play Manning more to get him re-acclimated to football, nor is there a need to play him less to preserve him.

"He has proven his injury is fine from a structure standpoint," Fox said. "Now, we don't want to see how many times we can get him hit, but I think it will be pretty much business as usual."

For his part, Manning said he will be amenable to whatever his coaches decide.

"I'd like to play well," he said. "It's tough to go in one series, three and out and they take you out. You always want to go back in, wish you could have a 12-play drive and score.

"So many factors work together. How much is the offensive line going to play, the receivers, how healthy we are? ... I'm up for whatever he and the offensive coaches want to do."

Manning is happy to be playing for Fox and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. The 36-year old is happy to be playing period.

"I've always enjoyed playing," said Manning, who played 227 straight games for the Colts (including postseason) before last year. "I've always appreciated being able to practice every practice, play every game. I never took for granted the fact that I took every snap, started every game since I was 15 years old. So when you don't play a whole season, it sort of proves you shouldn't take it for granted, which I didn't.

"I had it in the right perspective. It was a football season missed. There are people going through really tough times. Like here in Denver, the victims of the theater shooting. I never said how could this happen to me? The year the greatest physical gifts the Lord blessed me with were taken away was also the year He blessed me and my wife with the greatest gift of all time in twins. But I do like being out here in the routine again."

Manning has caused quite a stir in Denver. Hordes of fans and media members have besieged the Broncos' Dove Valley training complex hoping to come away with a Manning experience.

His every throw has been scrutinized as everyone tries to get a feel for whether the arm that has thrown for 54,828 yards, third most in NFL history, is the same.

This week, he hit the out routes and made difficult throws downfield. He wasn't throwing lasers, but he never did.

"He doesn't throw it like Jay Cutler or like Brett Favre," Broncos receiver Brandon Stokely said. "That's not what he ever has been about. It's not about how hard he throws the ball. I don't think he ever has been a flamethrower back there.

"He's more about accuracy, anticipation. Nobody does it better than him."

Said Fox, "I don't think he likes when we say his arm looks the same as it used to. But he is getting better every day. There is still some rehab. He hasn't played football in a year."

Manning puts it this way: "It has been so heavily analyzed, I leave it to everyone else. Everyone will have their opinion anyway. I've continued to work. I still have work to do. I look forward to putting that work in, trying to be as strong and as efficient as I can. I've worked hard and come a long way in a year. I still have work and rehab to do. It's a work in progress."