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Breaking down the quarterbacks

The Broncos' plans for their 2015 offense remain on hold as Peyton Manning takes the time offered him by team management to decide whether he wants to return for his fourth Broncos season and 18th in the NFL.

But as both Manning and new Head Coach Gary Kubiak indicated in recent weeks, any tweaks to the offense will not be an impediment. The two met last week, and although their conversation could not focus specifically on football, tactics and offensive installation, Manning said he "did enjoy getting to know" Kubiak.

Understandably, Manning is the focal point at this moment, but the status of backup Brock Osweiler and practice-squad passer Zac Dysert is also worth evaluating as we begin our position-by-position breakdown of the Broncos in 2014.

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PEYTON MANNING* Games played/started:16/16
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Snaps: 1,092 (third-most on the offense)
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Contract: **xpires after 2016 season

Officially, Manning remains undecided about his 2015 plans, although he hopes to to commit to a choice "soon," as he told media after accepting the Bart Starr Award Jan. 30 in Phoenix.

"Something that's important to me is not whether I can physically do it for myself, [but] can I physically do it to help the team?" Manning said last week.

He played the last two and a half games of the regular season and the playoff loss to Indianapolis with a torn quadriceps muscle, and the reality of life for a soon-to-be-39-year-old football player -- or anyone at that age, for that matter -- is that injuries, bumps and bruises just don't heal as fast as they did in younger years.

Manning earned a Pro Bowl invitation, finished second in the league with 39 touchdown passes and ended 2015 ranked fourth in passing yardage (4,727) and quarterback rating (101.5) and fifth in yards per attempt (7.92). It was another successful season for a quarterback who is accustomed to them.

But the late-season change in offensive emphasis and the quadriceps injury knocked Manning's production down a bit. After the Broncos recommitted to the run in Week 12, the Broncos' average per pass play dropped from 7.62 yards -- second-best in the league from Weeks 1-11 - to 7.16 yards, which was still sixth in the league for Weeks 12-17. And Manning's interception rate, which was one every 45.9 passes in Weeks 1-11, was one every 39.3 passes from Week 12 through the postseason -- a smidgen higher than the 2014 league-average rate of one every 39.7 passes.

If Manning returns, an offensive goal will be to meld the passing efficiency of the first 10 games -- and the two seasons before that -- with the effectiveness on the ground at the end of the season. If Kubiak, Manning and the Broncos could achieve that, then the league's highest-scoring offense of the last three years could be even more potent in 2015.

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BROCK OSWEILER* Games played/started:4/0
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Snaps: 37
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Contract: **xpires after 2015 season

Osweiler had some firsts in limited work: first non mop-up snaps (at San Diego in Week 14, when Manning had to return to the locker room because of illness) and his first touchdown pass. But three years into his career, he remains an unknown quantity as he continues to wait his turn behind Manning.

"We're excited about Brock's progress," Executive Vice President/General Manager John Elway said Jan. 20. "I mean he's been here for three years and he's done everything that's been asked of him. He's been a tremendous student, he's worked his tail off, he's worked his tail off over in the weight room.

"So if that would be the case, I do have confidence that Brock can step in."

But until Osweiler gets extensive work in a situation that matters, the Broncos won't know for certain. All they have at this point is practice, preseason work -- mostly against second-teamers -- and 17 completions in 30 career regular-season attempts for 159 yards and a Week 17 touchdown pass to tight end Virgil Green.

"This is a big game. It's a tough game. And the one thing that Brock has been lacking in the last three years is the fact that he hasn't gotten a lot of playing time," Elway said. "So I'm confident he can do it, but you know what? The bottom line is he's going to answer that question when the light comes on."

But now there's a question of whether the light will come on while he's a Bronco. If Manning returns for the 2015 season, it's possible that the second-quarter work against San Diego on Dec. 14 will represent his only snaps in the competitive phase of any regular-season game before his first contract expires. That would leave the Broncos with a crucial decision to make -- and without much of a sample size on which to base it.

ZAC DYSERT
Games played/started:0/0
**Contract: *Signed to reserve-future contract.

After working as the No. 3 quarterback on the 53-man roster as a rookie, Dysert spent the entire 2014 season on the practice squad, as the Broncos gambled that no other team would attempt to sign him to its 53-man roster.

With the bulk of the repetitions gobbled up by Manning and Osweiler, Dysert was left with scout-team work and 18 passes late in preseason games, from which he completed 12 for 106 yards, a touchdown and a 100.7 quarterback rating. Another year in the offense helped Dysert's comfort level, and his presence helps push Osweiler in his development -- while also providing another potential quarterback of the future, whenever that comes.


Do you have a question for Andrew Mason? Ask it here and you might be in this week's Mailbag!

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Check out the best photos of the season of Broncos quarterbacks, including Peyton Manning's record-setting 509th touchdown pass.

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