Brock Osweiler Had the Look of a Star, but Now He Has a Look of Desperation

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterAugust 23, 2017

Cleveland Browns quarterback Brock Osweiler (17) throws against the New Orleans Saints during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Ron Schwane/Associated Press

Not long ago, Brock Osweiler was watching a television show that inspired him. He connected with it instantly. 

The show was the NFL Network's A Football Life and the subject was Kurt Warner. It detailed Warner's rise from grocery store clerk to Arena League player to Super Bowl champion and Hall of Famer.

To Osweiler, Warner's story resonated deep in his football genes. While Osweiler's story has some obvious differences, like Warner once did, the five-year NFL veteran quarterback now finds himself at a defining intersection: discarded, doubted, mocked and sent to football purgatory, where he is still trying to prove he is a starter in this league.

"I knew a little about Kurt's life, but I really learned about it watching that show," Osweiler told B/R midway through Browns training camp. "I thought, 'Why can't that be me? Why can't I make a comeback? Why can't I be a champion in this league?'"

Osweiler was passionate as he spoke while standing just a few feet from the field, almost as if he was a lawyer making the opening statement in a case to determine whether or not he really is worthy of being an NFL quarterback.

"It doesn't matter what people think of me," he said. "I'm not looking backwards. I'm not looking at what happened in Houston. I have no bad feelings toward them. I'm here to be a starting quarterback in this league. I know I can be.

"Nothing is going to deter me from believing in myself. When I walk around here, I'm encouraged, and the entire environment is supportive. I feel like I have a fair chance to succeed here."

After meriting little more than a cursory mention in the Browns' press release announcing the deal that brought him to Cleveland, Osweiler has become a respected presence in the Browns locker room. The veterans have come to trust and like him. One said he had a 20-minute discussion with Osweiler about football that was one of the more informative of his career.

While he hasn't sparkled on the field this summer, Brock Osweiler has won the respect of many players on the Browns roster.
While he hasn't sparkled on the field this summer, Brock Osweiler has won the respect of many players on the Browns roster.Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Physically, Osweiler has all the tools. A strong arm, and the size—at 6'7"to see easily over the line and downfield. There's just one problem: We still don't know if Brock Osweiler can play in the NFL. After helping the Broncos to a 5-2 mark as a part-time starter in their Super Bowl season of 2015, Osweiler signed with the Texans last summer and was less than inspiring, throwing more interceptions than he did touchdowns.

If this is Osweiler's last stand, instead of going the way of Warner, with a discernible upward flight path, Osweiler's last fight is going the way of Custer at Little Big Horn.

The Osweiler story, in many ways, is a simple one. The NFL machine is so desperate for a quarterback, it often anoints the next star before he is ready to be one.

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NFL history is littered with free agents who were going to be the next great quarterback. Their names are like ghosts on an ancient ship: Scott Mitchell, Jeff George, Neil O'Donnell, Jeff Garcia, Elvis Grbac, Jake Delhomme, Derek Anderson and others.

Osweiler hasn't joined that group yet, but he hasn't exactly emulated Warner, who, when he got his opportunities in the NFL, grabbed them by the throat and never let go. He played with desperation, like no other chance would ever come again. Osweiler, on the other hand, had a custom red carpet put at his feet in Houston and burned it to ashes.

The Texans were a crippled offense with Osweiler at the helm. Some of that was his fault (a league second-worst 73.4 passer rating), some of it was terrible offensive line play (32 sacks allowed last season). But he took most of the blame, thanks to a four-year, $72 million contract that included $37 million in guaranteed money. In Week 15, he was benched for Tom Savage.

"I saw a man broken into a thousand different pieces by the end of the season," said one former Texans teammate.

After directing the Texans to an 8-6 mark as a starter last season, Osweiler was benched for the last two regular-season games.
After directing the Texans to an 8-6 mark as a starter last season, Osweiler was benched for the last two regular-season games.Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

The offseason saw him dealt to the Browns as part of the price Cleveland paid to acquire Houston's 2018 second-round pick. Since the trade, many around the league have been waiting for the next part of that deal to be completed—a trade to a team not in the throes of rebuilding. But finding a taker hasn't been easy.

Osweiler's first preseason game with the Browns was less than impressive. He completed six of his 14 passes for 42 yards. Many of his throws were high and hot. He wasn't much better in his second preseason game on Monday. In two drives, Osweiler went 6-of-8 for 25 yards and ended his night with an interception. 

If Osweiler were trying to get a hold on the starting job, or perhaps convince other teams to try and add him, his performance in that game might have obliterated any chance of either. The battle Osweiler is fighting may even be harder than we know. Rookie DeShone Kizer will start the third preseason game, and normally, the starter of the third preseason game starts for the first regular season one.

"Is this my last stand?" Osweiler said, repeating the question asked of him. "Not even thinking that way. Just going to play football."

This wasn't the way it was supposed to be, not after he was tapped as the man to replace Peyton Manning and then to be the franchise quarterback for a rising Texans club a year later.

What happened? Why did a player with so much promise end up here, his future as a starter in doubt?

Four players, two who played with Osweiler in Denver and two in Houston, provided some blunt answers. They asked not to be identified.

Osweiler, all of the players said, was extremely well-liked. One Broncos defender called him "happy-go-lucky Brock."

His popularity only increased in the Denver locker room after he was named the starter in November of 2015. The Osweiler we see now is nothing like that version. That Osweiler was decisive and, at times, simply brilliant. He had two touchdowns and a 127.1 passer rating against Chicago. The following week, he defeated the then-unbeaten New England Patriots. He won a third straight one week later against San Diego.

Osweiler finished the season with an 86.4 passer rating, and several teams looked at him as starting material. Yet inside the Denver organization, players and others noticed what they viewed as warning signs.

With quick decision-making and a big arm, Osweiler won over a Broncos team that eventually triumphed in the Super Bowl.
With quick decision-making and a big arm, Osweiler won over a Broncos team that eventually triumphed in the Super Bowl.David Banks/Getty Images

Players said that as teams began getting more tape on Osweiler, and studying his tendencies, they were better able to mold defenses that could attack him specifically. As these defenses got more complex, Osweiler became increasingly fooled.

"We did things schematically to cover up some of his weaknesses," said one Denver player.

Osweiler had an increasingly difficult time reading defenses as the season went on. Texans players said this was a massive problem in Houston as well.

As in Denver, players in the Texans locker room liked Osweiler. He was supportive and constantly praised teammates. But his struggle to read defenses became a full-blown plague.

"I love Brock, but he got fooled a lot," explained one player.

According to all four players, Osweiler became more inaccurate the more he panicked about the coverages he was trying to decipher.

Is it fair to look back and dissect, in perfect hindsight, every nook and cranny of Osweiler's career? Maybe not, but it tells a lot about why he has thus far failed as a starter.

He won't talk about what happened in Houston now. It was clear that Osweiler and Texans coach Bill O'Brien clashed and Osweiler seemed to be criticizing O'Brien in July when speaking of his throwing motion.

"I think that's something that slid last season," Osweiler told reporters in June, speaking of his fundamentals. "I'm not going to go into great detail on that, but they did. My fundamentals slid, and because of that, you saw some poor decisions and some poor throws. If you go back to 2015 (in Denver), I feel like my fundamentals were pretty tight."

The Browns worked all offseason on Osweiler's mechanics.

"Brock was a long-strider," quarterbacks coach David Lee said. "Brock knows that when we start moving around and the bullets start flying, his legs get long again like daddy longlegs and that's when he gets in trouble and the ball sails. It comes out of his hand too high because of his long stride, and his body doesn't catch up. The brain says let it go, but their body hasn't caught up with their front foot."

That sounds plausible, but fundamentals aren't the problem.

When you watch Osweiler on tape, his footwork has long been slightly awkward because of his height. What has changed is that defenses know they can get to him, and Osweiler seems to get rattled in ways he didn't in Denver, when defenses were just introduced to him.

Of course, he can still turn it around. Osweiler has showed glimpses of excellence in the past and he's also a solid athlete. (He averaged almost 24.9 points and 14.5 rebounds a game in high school and originally accepted a basketball scholarship to Gonzaga before deciding to play football at Arizona State.)

And then there's Warner. As Osweiler saw, if it can happen to Warner, couldn't it happen to him, too?

"I'm confident in what I can do," he said. "Anything can happen in the NFL."


Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @mikefreemanNFL. 


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