Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is finicky. He is finicky with the playbook, finicky with formations and extra finicky when breaking down opposing defenses. You would certainly expect him to be finicky with his starting center.
Since the Broncos have suffered a slew of injuries at the center position, they have been forced to ad-lib. Guard Manny Ramirez has made the transition to center and has been taking first team reps. Ramirez filled in at guard for an injured Kris Kuper last season and was admirable in run blocking, but left the team wanting in pass protection.
Manning has been a master at avoiding sacks throughout his career, although he is neither nimble nor mobile. Manning is very pocket savvy, however, and is able to avoid oncoming pass-rushers by moving around in the pocket and more importantly, stepping up in the pocket. Here is where the problem may lie.
Ramirez, weak as he is already at pass-protecting, now must learn all of Manning’s and the offense’s nuances, all while trying to improve at his pass blocking. With Ramirez’s weakness being so glaring, you just know opposing defenses will send blitzes right up the middle at Ramirez and potentially into Manning’s grill.
Not good for Manning, certainly not good for the Broncos.
Enter Ryan Lilja. Lilja has played with Manning in the past — starting at guard from 2004 until 2009 with the Colts. There is familiarity there. There is a comfort level there. There certainly won’t be as much finicky-ness there. Lilja played center for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2010 before retiring.
With all of Denver’s troubles recently, VP of Football Operations John Elway recently approached Manning about the idea of coaxing Lilja out of retirement.
Manning made some calls, and Lilja was at Dove Valley (Denver’s training camp headquarters) a couple of days later. Lilja brings things with him that temporary first-stringer Ramirez does not have. He’s much better at pass protection for starters, and he has experience in live games at center.
“Probably the best teammate you could ever have” was how Manning described his former teammate — yet another thing Manning gets finicky about. Not to say Ramirez isn’t a good teammate, but if Manning says you’re a great teammate, then you are a great teammate.
Lilja and/or Ramirez will have to hold down the fort until starter J.D Walton returns midway through the season.
Until then, Manning can be finicky over just about anything.