ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Peyton Manning returned to practice for the first time in a month but not to his starting job. That still belongs to Brock Osweiler, for at least another weekend.
Coach Gary Kubiak ruled out Manning for the Denver Broncos' showdown at Pittsburgh. But he said Manning took a "step in the right direction" in his return from a torn plantar fascia in his left foot Wednesday.
Kubiak said the plan was to increase Manning's workload Thursday. He wasn't about to prognosticate an eventual return to the lineup for the 18-year veteran.
"No, I couldn't make a judgment" based on one practice, Kubiak said. "I just think it was good. I think it's another step in the process, and it was a good step. I think it's about the week, really, more than about the day."
Manning spent a week in a hard cast and several more days in a walking boot after he was pulled from the lineup Nov. 15. He progressed to throwing indoors on his own last week and this marked his first practice with his teammates in 32 days.
"It's great to have him back out there," said Osweiler, who will make his fifth start in place of Manning when the Broncos (10-3) visit the Steelers (8-5).
Although Osweiler ran practice this season on just about every Wednesday even when Manning was healthy, this certainly represented a real role reversal for the longtime apprentice and the five-time MVP.
"It was a little strange to watch Peyton take those scout team reps today," Osweiler acknowledged. "But once again, that's just something out of my control. I was told to go to the first-team huddle and you're the starter this week. And that's what I did."
Kubiak demurred when asked if Osweiler has the chance to remain the starter even when — or if — Manning is healthy.
"I'm expecting Brock to continue to play well, but I'm going to stay focused a week at a time," Kubiak said. "I'm not going to talk about what's going on three weeks from now or two weeks from now."
The Broncos are 3-1 under Osweiler and 7-2 with Manning, although they've struggled to reach the end zone no matter who's taking the snaps.
Osweiler is coming off his first loss, to Oakland at home, even though he completed a career-best 35 throws and posted his first 300-yard passing game.
"Brock is fine," Kubiak said. "That kid is smiling all the time. He's always upbeat. He's got a lot of confidence in himself. ... I'm proud of Brock. I've said that over and over again. He's doing a good job for his team. His team knows how hard he works, and he's got a lot of confidence in himself."
Kubiak has opened up the playbook for the more mobile, athletic and agile Osweiler, who's nearly 15 years younger than Manning, 39. But in roughly 17 quarters, Osweiler has been sacked 17 times, including once for a safety Sunday.
Even though he's been sidelined a month, Manning's 17 interceptions still lead the league. He had four against Kansas City on Nov. 15, when he posted a career-worst 0.0 passer rating on the same day he broke Brett Favre's NFL record for career passing yards.
Kubiak pulled him in the third quarter that day and then made the switch to Osweiler the next day.
Manning stood on the sideline Sunday after skipping Denver's trips to Chicago and San Diego and watching the Broncos overtime win against New England from inside the locker room area.
Stepping strongly into his throws, Manning threw tight spirals without any apparent difficulty or pain during the brief media viewing period Wednesday.
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders gave him an A-plus.
"It was good to see him back," Sanders said. "I know that he was happy to be back. Everybody was excited to see him back. That's no discredit to Brock, obviously. Peyton has been battling a lot of injuries. Any time a guy gets the opportunity to get back, it's always good. We're happy and he looked good out there today."
With Manning back at practice, Osweiler was asked if he felt pressure to perform well against Pittsburgh to make a case for keeping his starting job regardless of Manning's status.
"I don't look at it like that," Osweiler said. "I'm simply looking at it as it's another football game. It's another football game against a great opponent on the road. We know that we have a great challenge ahead of us. I'm just focused on doing my job this week.
"Whatever happens in the future happens in the future," Osweiler added. "That really doesn't pertain to me right now. That's out of my control. What I can control is my preparation this week for the Steelers, and that's where my focus is."
NOTES: Sanders created a stir shortly after he signed with Denver last year when he pointed out he never met a QB who prepared like Manning. Some of the Steelers took it as a dig at Ben Roethlisberger, but Sanders insists that wasn't the case. "I've got nothing but love for Big Ben," Sanders told The AP on Wednesday, noting anybody would consider Manning one of the best leaders in the league. "And that's all I was saying."
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