The Denver Broncos are in a Super Bowl window thanks in large part to quarterback Peyton Manning. They want to win now, but as general manager John Elway points out, they also want to win from now on.
This means they have to be ready for the post-Manning era. That's why the team is grooming third-year quarterback Brock Osweiler to be the eventual starter.
Osweiler was a second-round pick by the Broncos in the 2012 NFL draft. Some fans (and even some analysts) were surprised with the pick at the time because the Broncos had just added Manning as a free agent earlier that year. Others were upset because a player who would have fit the team perfectly—linebacker Lavonte David—was picked immediately after Osweiler.
Revisionist history is fantastic, but let's remember things correctly.
Manning was coming off four neck procedures that caused him to miss the entire 2011 season. Nobody knew if he would ever be the same again, if the nerves in his right arm would properly regenerate or even if he could take a hit after surgery to fuse his neck.
Over the last two seasons, Manning has been the most dominant quarterback in the NFL. It's alarming that he's better than ever now in his post-surgery career with the Broncos.
Meanwhile, Osweiler has been waiting patiently behind the scenes, getting ready for his turn under the spotlight.
Let's take a look back at Osweiler, examine what is currently happening with him and project what that could mean for his future in the NFL.
Osweiler flashed incredible ability during his time at Arizona State. He originally signed to play basketball at Gonzaga before choosing to play football instead. The Sun Devils were elated with the decision, and they benefited from what he learned sitting on the bench his first two years as a collegian.
In the 2011 season, Osweiler finally got his chance to start for the Sun Devils. He did not disappoint with his performance.
He finished the year with 4,036 yards passing with 26 touchdown passes and a 63 percent completion rate. Osweiler also ran in three rushing touchdowns that year.
These numbers set ASU records for yards, completions and attempts.
Osweiler played well in an early season upset over the No. 6-ranked USC Trojans, completing over 78 percent of his passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a good showing against the No. 8-ranked Boise State Broncos in the final game of the year. In that contest, he had nearly 400 yards passing (395) and a pair of touchdowns.
After the 2011 season, ASU decided to change the coaching staff, and Osweiler decided to declare early for the NFL draft.
There are many things to like about Osweiler's game.
First, there's his size. Standing at 6'6", Osweiler sees the field well. This helps him diagnose where defenders are going as the play unfolds.
Next, there's his athleticism. Osweiler is a scrambler who can keep plays alive with his feet. He's quick enough to escape pressure when passing options are exhausted.
Finally, there's his arm strength. He arguably had the best arm strength of any quarterback in the 2012 NFL draft. Osweiler has a cannon for a right arm, and he can fit the ball into tight windows that other quarterbacks can't.
Training Camp Notes
After a rocky start to the offseason during minicamp and OTAs, Osweiler has looked much better during training camp.
He's working with a larger portion of the playbook this year after being eased in the first two years of his career. Osweiler has shown great command of the offense during camp. Teammates respond well to his guidance, and he's a tough—but fair—leader.
Most days in camp, Osweiler is connecting on perfectly thrown deep passes. He has the arm to throw it 70 yards on a rope, but Osweiler has shown much better touch on passes over 25 yards this offseason.
Osweiler made some good decisions in the first preseason game.
I like seeing Osweiler scramble immediately when it's not there. He can scramble, like seeing quick decisions #Broncos— Cecil Lammey (@cecillammey) August 8, 2014
Osweiler had as many rushes (six) as he did completions (six) in the game against Seattle. It was good to see him make quick decisions from the pocket—both as a passer and a rusher. Osweiler was regularly hitting the final step in his drop and quickly passing or running with the ball.
This shows that he's comfortable in what he's seeing and reading with the defense.
Pass placement can show whether or not a quarterback is advanced in his skill set. Watching the game against the Seahawks, Osweiler had multiple passes that were right in stride with his target. Some were dropped passes that fell incomplete (Bennie Fowler, Greg Hardin) while others found their mark and became big plays.
His interception against Seattle was a bad throw. His footwork was poor on that pass even though the pocket was clean enough for him to properly step into the throw. Osweiler was also late with his read.
After the game, Manning said he would have made the same throw with the defensive look. That's a positive for Osweiler, but he needs to throw the ball sooner and maintain his mechanics in order to beat the safety on that pass.
I conducted an exclusive interview with Osweiler on my ESPN Denver radio show earlier this week.
Osweiler is keeping things in perspective this preseason. He liked winning the preseason opener against the Seahawks, but he realizes where it ranks in the process of building a team.
"It was a great stepping stone in our preseason, but that's all it was—a stepping stone," he said. "We need to improve, and we need to move on, and we will as the month goes on."
Confidence is a huge key for most football players—especially quarterbacks. Osweiler feels good about where he's at mentally in this offense.
"My confidence is at a level I could only dream about two years ago when I got here. I wouldn't be where I'm at today without Peyton [Manning]."
Osweiler provided some insight into the 34-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Norwood that was the game-winner against the Seahawks in the opening week of the preseason.
"We recognized man-to-man coverage pre-snap, and I just put a lot of faith in Jordan to beat his guy down the seam."
Coming out of Arizona State, Osweiler had some things to work on. His throwing motion was almost a sidearm release, and his footwork needed to be cleaned up to improve his accuracy. Osweiler noted both have improved with proper coaching.
"My throwing motion has changed a little bit, [and] I think it's better than it was when I first got here two years ago," he said. "My feet are extremely better than they were. A lot of that has to do with Coach [Greg] Knapp. He really drilled me on the feet aspect of the quarterback position last year, and that's really helped my game along."
I finished the interview by asking Osweiler if he was ready to take over as the starter if the team needed him to. He answered quickly and succinctly.
"Without question. I say that with the utmost confidence. I will be ready [if needed], and I'll be prepared to play quarterback for this football team."
There are some who will never change their mind about Osweiler. Yes, David might have been a better pick than Osweiler, but that doesn't automatically mean he's a bad pick. The entire organization is happy with Osweiler's progress, and there's been growth in his game this offseason.
I've asked head coach John Fox, offensive coordinator Adam Gase and Elway about Osweiler this offseason. All three have said essentially the same thing—they like what they've seen from the young passer.
Broncos fans need to be patient with Osweiler, but there's a chance that he never plays significant snaps in Denver. Osweiler has two years left on his rookie deal while Manning has three years remaining on the contract he signed in 2012.
With the way Manning is playing, he could fulfill that contract. That means Osweiler would have to be re-signed by the Broncos, or he could move on in free agency to get a chance to start elsewhere.
The Broncos have put in plenty of time developing Osweiler. It would be a shame for them to lose him without seeing the results. However, it's part of the game and a risk they knew when they drafted hm.
Osweiler is getting the Aaron Rodgers treatment. He's developing behind a future Hall of Fame quarterback with the idea that one day, he'll get a chance to start. Broncos fans would certainly love if Osweiler became Rodgers-like if he gets that chance in Denver.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. College football stats provided by CFBStats.com.
Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.
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