SANTA CLARA, Calif. | Jordan Taylor sauntered into the locker room, a spiffy custom-made charcoal suit slung over his right shoulder.
“Let me see it,” Peyton Manning asked excitedly.
The Denver Broncos’ practice squad receiver unzipped the white vinyl bag to reveal the three-piece ensemble as Manning admired the craftsmanship and choice of color.
The suit was a gift from Manning, his way of thanking Taylor for helping him regain his rhythm and reclaim his starting job in time to make this run to Super Bowl 50.
A 6-foot-5 rookie from Rice with runway model good looks and long, golden locks, Taylor served as Manning’s personal practice partner when the five-time MVP began his comeback from a left foot injury in December.
“I don’t think I could have gotten through my rehab and gotten back if it had not been for him,” Manning said Tuesday. “I am very grateful for his help.”
To show his appreciation, Manning sent Taylor to see his tailor.
“I bought him a suit, two shirts and two ties for the road trip — and he may have been one of the best dressed players on the team coming out here on Sunday,” Manning said. “I just appreciate his help.”
The workouts consisted of assistant equipment manager Mike “Harry” Harrington snapping to Manning and Taylor running himself ragged.
“We’d work from the right side first and run all of the route tree: curls, fades, hitches, slants, all that. We’d do 10 routes on the left side, 10 routes on the right side,” Taylor said.
“And then he likes to get into two-minute mode hurrying up and calling things out. So, we would do that up and down the field three or four times. So, it was exhausting and then I’d have to go to practice later that afternoon.”
Manning said he “felt bad because I was running him into the ground and he hadn’t even started practice yet. I have a bad habit of saying, ‘Just one more.’ And one more can turn into 10 more.”
Taylor’s not just a practice squad receiver, but he also lines up as a scout team free safety, “so I lost a little weight” in what he called his very own two-a-days.
Manning was no less demanding when he was hurt. If anything, his maniacal pursuit of perfection was only enhanced when he missed six weeks with the torn plantar fascia near his left heel.
And that’s where Taylor benefited from his daily sessions with Manning.
“The crispness of my routes, my understanding of this offense, all better because he’ll drill that into you for sure,” Taylor said. “I mean, you could go back to the beginning of football and you still couldn’t ask for anybody better.”
It was like having Einstein tutor you in math or Picasso teach you to paint.
“Obviously, having a guy like Peyton come to you and ask you to help him out and ask you to do routes with him on Sundays before the game, it was an honor for me,” Taylor said.
“Not only that, but once you get over the awe of it and actually get to work with him and grind with him, I mean, he’s coaching me up on route depths, route techniques while he’s trying to get better, too. So, it helped me to grow as a receiver.”
Taylor had a better view of Manning’s progress than even coach Gary Kubiak, who watched most of those indoor sessions on film.
Taylor saw the progress every day, and by the time the Broncos played their regular season finale against San Diego, Manning had progressed enough to suit up and serve as a backup for the first time since his freshman year at Tennessee.
Manning didn’t expect to play that day, so he and Taylor worked up a good sweat well before kickoff.
While Taylor was settling in for the second half after grabbing a hot dog in the press box, Manning was entering the game late in the third quarter, his comeback helping Denver secure the top seed in the AFC, which proved crucial in getting to Sunday’s showdown with the Carolina Panthers.
“I saw this coming,” Taylor said.
And Manning sees good things ahead for Taylor, too.
“I’m looking forward to his career,” Manning said. “He’s a long, tall receiver, maybe the Eddie McCaffrey, Eric Decker-type mold. I really think he’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
Their work together isn’t finished, either.
When Manning first got to Denver in 2012, he quit warming up on the field before games because he’d have to constantly stop to shake the hands of too many former teammates who were now coaching or broadcasting the game. So, he’d loosen up his arm in the locker room or the tunnel instead.
That changed last month when he and Taylor hit the field two hours before kickoff against San Diego.
“And we won, so I did it against Pittsburgh, and versus New England. So we’ll be out there Super Bowl Sunday,” Manning said. “It’s a nice reminder of kind of where we’ve been this season. I look forward to that.”
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