Evaluating Peyton Manning's first Broncos practice

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Evaluating Peyton Manning's first Broncos practice

From Comcast SportsNet
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) -- His passes were hitting receivers in stride and right between the numbers, not skipping off the ground or whizzing behind their heads like so many of Tim Tebow's. The Denver Broncos got their first real taste of Peyton Manning on Monday with a spirited, fast-paced workout, the four-time MVP's first full practice in more than 16 months. "It felt good to be out there. It's been a while for me," Manning said. "It's been about a year and a-half since I've been in uniform, been in an organized practice. So, it felt good to be out there. And it will be a good film to study." Monday also was the first chance for the media to get a look at the progress Manning has made since a series of neck operations sidelined him all of last season and led to his release from the Indianapolis Colts. And Manning looked great, showing zip and accuracy on his passes, comfort under center, complete command of his offense and no ill effects from the nerve injury that caused weakness in his throwing arm. "Man, it feels good to know he's going to be on my side because what I saw today, he's going to give us some good work," star cornerback Champ Bailey said. "And we might not see a quarterback like that all year." Manning became the most prized free agent in NFL history following his release from the Colts after 14 seasons. His signing in Denver led to Tebow's trade to the New York Jets, despite a thrilling run to the playoffs guided by the younger QB. The Broncos and a handful of other suitors watched Manning throw during his whirlwind free agency tour in March, but before Monday, reporters had to rely on his receivers for updates on his progress. Manning had refused to talk about it. "Well, you guys got to see him today," tight end Jacob Tamme said. And he looked like the Manning of old. His throws, most of which were intermediate, were strong and on target. His only deep pass was true, too, hitting Matthew Willis in stride before being broken up by cornerback Tracy Porter at the goal line. Watching his pinpoint passes zip around Dove Valley, one never would have guessed he'd been forced to take a sabbatical and go under the scalpel multiple times since his last game, a wild-card playoff loss to the Jets in January of 2011. "Oh, no. Absolutely not," Bailey said. "You know, it's not live, but from what I see right now, the guy hasn't missed a beat." Coach John Fox said Manning's "getting better every day." And so are the Broncos, on account of Manning's presence. "He definitely raises all boats, that's for sure, and that's not just with the young players, (but also) the veterans," Fox said. "We're excited where that is and what's he's done to raise those boats." Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas and the other young receivers have all been refining their route-running so as not to endure Manning's famous wrath. "Well, I think they're on their way," Bailey said. "Obviously, I want to help them as much as possible, try to sharpen their routes up and things like that, but one thing about them is they get open a little bit, they're open a lot to him. That's one thing that's a big difference this year." Manning wouldn't gauge the progress he's made in his two months in Denver, first during private workouts at local high schools and then at the team's training facility. "It's hard to say. I try to get better every day, you know, that's my goal and I really need to use this time," he said. "I do think there's a difference when you are on the field in helmets going up against a defense. Up until now, we hadn't been able to go against a defense. So, this will be great work for me going against Champ Bailey and Von Miller and Elvis (Dumervil) and (Tracy) Porter, Drayton Florence. "We've got three great cover corners to work against. So, until now we've been kind of throwing passes versus air, and you can work on your timing with receivers but it's a great test to go against these corners." Manning is clearly more concerned about ironing out the wrinkles in his new offense than what fans seem to be harping on: his health status. "I've always believed you develop your timing for your passing game in the offseason, I don't think you can just show up in September and expect to be on the same page," Manning said. "So, what a great opportunity for these receivers going against these corners. I mean, if you can't get better going against some of these top cover corners, then it's just not meant to be. So, it's a great challenge for everybody." Monday marked one signpost. Up ahead is putting on the shoulder pads, training camp, taking that first hit in the preseason. "There's no question it's a different mentality for me in these OTAs than it has been in other years because of all the changes," Manning said. "But I look forward to the challenge and I just can't tell you how important these OTAs are. I think they're important for everybody. But when you're a new player, on a new team, certainly coming off an injury, I think they certainly take added importance, and I thought today was an excellent start." Notes: Among the no-shows for the voluntary workout was DT Ty Warren, whom the Broncos are hoping takes a pay cut, and LB D.J. Williams, whose DUI case ended in a mistrial Monday.

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Jakub Vrana's first goal proves to be the game-winner for Caps

Jakub Vrana's first goal proves to be the game-winner for Caps

Five games and 10 shots into his NHL career, Jakub Vrana experienced a moment he’ll never forget.

The Capitals rookie finished a perfectly-placed setup pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov on the power play Friday night in Buffalo, where his first goal proved to be the game winner in Washington’s 4-1 triumph.

“It feels good,” Vrana said. “I had a few shots the last few games [but] it didn’t go in. So, that one did [and] I’m going to give huge credit to Kuzy for a great play.”

Kuznetsov, in fact, singlehandedly created the scoring chance by carrying the puck down the wall, squeezing past a defender and then making a strong move along the goal line. Vrana, meantime, made a bee line right to the top of the blue paint and banged in Kuzy’s cross-crease pass.

“That was a lot prettier than mine,” veteran T.J. Oshie said, referring to his first career goal. “Very happy for him. I think everyone on the team has already went up and congratulated him. It’s awesome. It’s a big day for him.”

RELATED: TWO-GOAL SECOND PERIOD FUELS CAPS' WIN IN BUFFALO

Said Coach Barry Trotz: “Kuzy made a great play, went wide. And Jake went to the paint and found that puck. And when he finds that puck in close, he’s pretty good.”

“You’re getting to know what he is,” Trotz added. “He’s more of a pure shooter than a playmaker, which is okay. Do what you do best. [Alex Ovechkin] has made a good living doing that. Jake will do that.”    

Although he had gone his first four games without a point, Vrana said he never lost confidence.

“As long as I got chances, it was going a good way,” he said. “Just hard to finish a little bit. Obviously, I’m happy for this one and [now] just try to keep it going.”

In the middle of his interview session, teammate Tom Wilson sneaked up and hit him in the face with the traditional shaving cream pie.

Vrana never missed a beat.

“Alright,” he said as he wiped the cream from his eyes. “Next question.”

Vrana also praised his teammates for their strong finish to the game. Against Boston on Wednesday, the Caps sat back, blew a 3-0 lead and had to win it in overtime.

On Friday, though, Vrana’s goal gave the visitors all they would need thanks to a much better closing effort.

“I would say last game we had a 3-0 and we kinda let it go for a little bit,” he said. “So, after the game we talk a lot about it [in a closed-door, players-only meeting]. This game, we had a 2-0 lead and we just keep working hard, hold the fort [in the] third period. Obviously, we play a 60 minute game today.”

Indeed, things couldn’t have gone much better for the 20-year-old Czech. He scored, the Caps won and, more important, he probably bought himself some more time in Washington.

“I never dreamed how I would score,” he said, asked if his first goal happened just as he had always imagined. “Just get some shots on the net and hopefully something is going to go in. Like I said, I got to give credit to Kuzy for a great play.”

MORE CAPITALS: BARRY TROTZ PRAISES CAPS POWER PLAY AFTER WIN AGAINST SABRES

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Two-goal second period fuels Caps to the win in Buffalo

Two-goal second period fuels Caps to the win in Buffalo

The Capitals broke open Friday's game in Buffalo with two goals on their way to the 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres.

How it happened: After a scoreless first period, T.J. Oshie opened the scoring in just his second game back from an upper-body injury. Jay Beagle chased the puck into the corner taking two Sabres with him and leaving Oshie open in the slot. Beagle found him with a nifty backhand pass and he fired the puck into the back of the net. Later in the period, Evgeny Kuznetsov dangled the puck into the offensive zone and around the sprawling defense to feed Jakub Vrana on the doorstep for the tip-in goal.

Buffalo cut the deficit to one in the third period as Kyle Okposo tapped in a rebound past Philipp Grubauer for the power play tally. John Carlson responded just 2:17 later with a power-play goal of his own, as he fired a one-time from the top of the circle into the roof of the net. Marcus Johansson then added the insurance marker with an empty-netter.

What it means: The win is the Caps' third in 15 days over Buffalo, completing the season sweep. Washington has now earned points in 24 of their last 30 games against the Sabres and in six of their last seven in Buffalo. It is also the Caps' third consecutive win.

Backstrom scare: Nicklas Backstrom played 3:02 in the first period, but left for the locker room. The team PR told Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post that he was “being evaluated.” He returned for the second period. The team did not reveal any specifics as to what the issue was. He would finish with 15:32 of ice time for the game.

The first of many: Vrana's goal in the second period was the first of his NHL career. You can watch it in the video above. The 2014 first-round pick made his NHL debut on Dec. 1. Known for his goal-scoring abilities Vrana has played well since being recalled from Hershey, but eventually that needed to translate into points. It did on Friday and it came on the power play to boot.

End of the slump?: Kuznetsov recorded an assist on Vrana's goal giving him four in the past three games. The past three assists have all been primary. Kuznetsov had a very strong start to the game with three shots on goal in the opening period. For the season, Kuznetsov has only 13 points this season, but with four of those points coming in the past three games, it could signal the return of one of the Caps' top offensive weapons. Carlson also had an important night with his first goal of the season. As one of the top offensive playmakers on the blue line, the Caps' are much better when he is generation offense, especially on the power play.

Look ahead: The Caps return home to face the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday. Then they hit the road for two Metropolitan Division games against the New York Islanders on Tuesday and the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday.