Super Bowl 50  

 

Brock Osweiler: From Broncos' starter to Super Bowl backup

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Let's go back for a minute to the 2014 season.

It's early November, and the Denver Broncos are tearing into the Oakland Raiders. Up 41-10, coach John Fox makes the move to yank quarterback Peyton Manning, giving the largely anonymous Brock Osweiler a rare chance to register meaningful snaps.

With the exuberance of a puppy, Osweiler rips off his baseball cap, grabs his helmet and heads for the field -- only to see Peyton re-enter the game. Network cameras catch Osweiler pausing and flipping his arm in the air in semi-disgust, as if to say: Will I ever play behind this guy?

The moment went viral, leaving reporters to seek out Osweiler for comment. Instead of delivering snark, though, he quickly defused the situation, explaining what ran through his mind: "Am I going in? Am I not going in? But no, there's absolutely no hard feelings or anything like that. We're all just having a good laugh. It's funny that it got caught on tape."

Twelve months later, something else was caught on tape: Osweiler's first start.

In a 17-15 win over the Bears, the fourth-year signal-caller put all his unseen work into play with a two-touchdown effort against Chicago's John Fox, the coach who drafted Osweiler back in 2012. Most importantly, Osweiler didn't turn the ball over, a welcome change after watching Manning -- battered and benched -- throw a league-leading 17 picks over the first 10 weeks of the season.

With Brock on the field, the run game sprang to life, and Osweiler looked like a better fit in coach Gary Kubiak's rollout-heavy pass attack. It raised all sorts of questions about Osweiler's potential -- and the ticking clock on Manning's Hall of Fame career.

We all know what happened next. Despite accumulating a 5-2 record, it was curtains for Osweiler after he threw a pair of picks in a Week 17 game against the Chargers. Riding in on his white stallion, Manning took over, capped off the victory and now sits four quarters away from going out on top in Super Bowl 50. All the attention surrounding Peyton has thrust Osweiler back into the shadows after a season that ultimately feels ... weird.

"I really haven't thought about it," Osweiler said of his benching on Monday. "Since Peyton came into the game against San Diego, we've won two huge football games, and as long as we're winning, I'm going to be the happiest guy in the locker room. I don't need to tell you this, but I'm going to: Football's the ultimate team sport. It truly is every single Sunday, Thursday, whatever the day is, it truly takes a whole team to win a game. As long as we keep winning football games, shoot, I don't care who's under center."

But Brock, this could have been you. Isn't there a part of you that wants to be out there?

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"Absolutely. Absolutely. If I said it was easy to sit the past two games and watch, I'd completely be lying," Osweiler said. "So, it is. It's difficult to sit back and watch. As a competitor, you want be out there and in the fire with your teammates. You want to be in the huddle and have your hand on the ball every single play, but bottom line: Coach Kubiak is doing what he believes is best for the football team, and I fully support that, and I support this team 100 percent."

Just another company man talking the company line?

I don't think so. Osweiler strikes me as the ultimate example of why more quarterbacks should sit and learn behind players like Manning. It's not just the film study and mental reps, although you're getting a master class on those topics under Peyton -- it's the holistic development at the most important position in sports.

Osweiler is extremely polished, almost suspiciously so, but he's equally genuine: smitten with the game and totally won over to the concept of team, even at the expense of fast-tracking his slow-cooked career. He'll be a free agent this offseason -- and his seven starts give general managers plenty to think about -- but if there's a silver lining to being shuttled into the background again, it's Osweiler's public response to adversity.

Even when Hall of Fame legend John Elway -- Denver's general manager -- told reporters this week that the Broncos "wouldn't be here without Brock," the young quarterback refused the credit.

"That certainly means a lot to me, but at the same time, I don't really view it like that," Osweiler said of the praise. "Those seven weeks when I was out there playing, I truly believe that we were winning as a team. It took every single guy on Sunday to get those wins. Obviously, I really appreciate that compliment, but I think that's what makes this football team so special, is all year long, whether Peyton was the starter or I was the starter, we were winning as a team, and that's what truly got us here."

What Osweiler won't tell you is that, behind the scenes, he organized a dinner for the entire Broncos offense after the team landed in the Bay Area. Manning went out of his way to share that, while echoing Elway to say: "Brock Osweiler did a great job; we would not be here without the job that he did in the games that he played in."

During the league's frantic Opening Night festivities on Monday, it was as if reporters wanted to see Osweiler finally crack and admit that he's tweaked to lose the job -- but question after question was met with grace.

He quickly dismissed a question about getting the starting job back next season, saying: "I haven't even thought about that. I am 100 percent focused on the Carolina Panthers' defense and getting prepared for the Super Bowl on Sunday."

Brock -- come on! No dice.

"I want to be the best teammate I can possibly be on a daily basis, and I want to be the hardest working player on our team. And I want to be the hardest working player in the National Football League," Osweiler said. "I believe that nothing beats hard work, and combine that with being a great teammate, and everything takes care of itself."

The cynical among us will have a field day with these lines, but I couldn't help but walk away feeling something else: I buy it.

Osweiler's a throwback to the past, but with a tantalizing future in the National Football League.

Sunday is Peyton's time, but Brock's day will come.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.

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