ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Peyton Manning is about to face his first pass rush in 579 days.
The four-time MVP makes his Denver Broncos debut in the preseason opener at Chicago on Thursday. If he has an extra pep in his step or anticipates a larger than usual adrenaline rush against the Bears, he's not showing it.
He insists it's simply the next steppingstone in his comeback in Denver after missing all of last season with a nerve injury in his neck that weakened his throwing arm and led to his tearful farewell from the Indianapolis Colts.
He'd like to face some challenging situations during his cameo appearance at Soldier Field, and if he happens to get hit, he's certain he can bounce right back up.
Broncos boss John Elway and Denver's coaches will certainly cringe whenever that first big blast comes, but durability is really the only question mark left with Manning. His arm strength and pinpoint accuracy are back.
Manning's comeback is the biggest story line in the league heading into the 2012 season.
"It's great for him, and he's great for the NFL," Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said. "With the things he's done, he's one of the great quarterbacks in the history of the game. I'll just be happy he's in the AFC, still."
This will be Manning's first game since the Pro Bowl after the 2010 season and his first with a pass rush to contend with since the Colts lost to the New York Jets in the AFC wild-card round on Jan. 8, 2011.
Bears coach Lovie Smith isn't going to have his defense go easy on Manning.
"You don't play the game to hurt anybody at any time, but it's a physical football game," Smith said. "Our pass rushers want to get to the quarterback, whoever he is. I started with Peyton Manning his first year at Tennessee. We've known each other for a long time. I'm happy to see him back out there on the football field, but we need to play well against them."
Manning wouldn't want it any other way, and neither would his coach, John Fox.
"For the record, we're not going to hold back on them, either," Fox said.
Manning, who figures to get fewer than six quarters of work in the preseason, revealed no emotion over his much-anticipated return to action this week.
"I've always said you love to get a bit of everything in the preseason if you can," Manning said.