INDIANAPOLIS - Peyton Manning has some are good news for the NFL's only winless team: His ramped-up rehabilitation program includes more throwing.
Coach Jim Caldwell said Wednesday that Manning has picked up his regimen, though the four-time league MVP was not scheduled to practice with his teammates Wednesday. It's still unclear when or if Manning will return to the practice field and what the repertoire includes, though he acknowledged two weeks ago that throwing more was the next step in his recovery.
"That's what he does," Caldwell said when asked about throwing the ball. "They have been working with him in that area. That's part of it, but it's nothing revolutionary."
Manning hasn't played in any games this season because of a nerve injury that caused weakness in his throwing arm.
He had surgery in May, and when that didn't alleviate the problem, Indy's franchise quarterback had a more invasive surgery, a single-level fusion, on Sept. 8. It was Manning's third neck surgery in 19 months.
On Dec. 1, Manning's doctor issued a statement saying the fusion had healed firmly and Manning could increase the intensity of his workouts.
That was the best news the Colts (0-13) have had in this miserable season. On Dec. 2, Manning acknowledged that additional throwing would be the next step in his recovery. Team officials have kept Manning on the active roster, hoping he could return to practice before the Jan. 1 season finale at Jacksonville.
How much more can Manning now do?
"Once he's fused, he's stable to play," said Dr. Anders Cohen, chief of neurosurgery and spine surgery at the Brooklyn Hospital Center who did not treat Manning. Asked how long it would take Manning to regain the strength in his throwing arm, Cohen said: "I would suspect it probably happened while the bone was knitting."
The injury has created speculation on everything from Manning's possible return date to whether he has played his final snap for the Colts.
Last week, owner Jim Irsay confirmed what most people already suspected — that Manning was unlikely to play in a game this season — and it's still unclear if No. 18 will be playing in Indy in 2012.
Colts officials must decide by early March whether to pay a US$28 million bonus or let Manning become an unrestricted free agent. Indy also will likely have the No. 1 pick in April's draft, a slot that is expected to be used on Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
Manning's father, Archie, last week told a radio show that he didn't think it would be a "great idea" for the two to be teammates, then backtracked and said he meant that Luck was too good to sit behind someone next season. Having both quarterbacks would be a costly venture, though team vice-chairman Bill Polian has said the league's new rookie wage scale would make it a more palatable option
"The payment to the first-round draft choice is far less than it was under the old agreement, so you could afford that," Polian told radio listeners Nov. 28. "I'm perfectly fine with that approach."
The quarterback decision could also dictate the most important choice — whether Indy rebuilds with younger players or reloads to make another Super Bowl run with Manning.
Pro Bowlers Robert Mathis, Jeff Saturday and Reggie Wayne all have contracts expiring after this season, as do receivers Pierre Garcon and Anthony Gonzalez.
But in Indy, all eyes and all questions are focused on Manning and his recovery.
"His rehab is increasing, it's ramping up a little bit," Caldwell said. "But in terms of (practising) today, no."