ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It's one thing for Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway and Head Coach John Fox to speak confidently of their future plans for Brock Osweiler, as they have throughout the offseason. They said he was the quarterback of the future just after the season ended in January; they've reiterated it since. If anything, their confidence in him is stronger after organized team activities.
"I'm thrilled that Brock is the guy that we brought in and that's going to hopefully, at some point in time, take over for Peyton (Manning) because I really believe he's got that makeup," Elway said this week.
The praise is uniform, from Fox to Elway to Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase. Osweiler hears it, and appreciates it. But he understands their faith in him means nothing unless he makes the necessary progress to substantiate it, which he has done during organized team activities.
"I mean, it's great to hear that, and I really appreciate that they have faith in me and they stand behind me. But at the same time, those are just words, and I have to go out there and back up those words for those guys," Osweiler said.
"People say I'm the future, I'm the heir apparent. Those are only words. I have to go out there. I have to earn that right to be the starting quarterback of the Denver Broncos one day, and that's something I try to take to heart and really try to push myself every single day, so that when 18 (Peyton Manning) is gone, I'll have the chance to win that starting position."
Ideally, that wouldn't happen just yet. If Osweiler starts this season, it will be only because Manning is injured -- a circumstance no one at Dove Valley wants to see, for obvious reasons. But if that did come to pass, Osweiler would have to be more than the quarterback and leader of the future; he'd have to be both in the present.
The offense would stay the same and wouldn't be simplified, Osweiler said. If it's up-tempo with Manning, it would be the same with Osweiler. It would be Osweiler's job to adjust to where the first-teamers stood, not vice versa.
"Coach Fox always says, 'Don't be the weakest link,'" Osweiler said. "A lot of great things have been put into place … but if anything were to happen, I'm not going to be the weakest link. So that's how I've approached my job every single day. I have certain responsibilities, to be ready to play at the snap of a finger, and that's what I'm trying to do on a daily basis."
What happens in practice is just the beginning. During the OTA sessions open to media the last three weeks, Osweiler has shown massive growth from last year. He's more decisive in the pocket, anticipates pass rushes better, consistently hits his receivers in stride and delivers the ball into tight spaces, showing signs that he is developing Manning's penchant for completing passes in spite of proper, mistake-free coverage.
Some of that is due to the refinement of his delivery. Instead of dropping his elbow and reverting to a more sidearm-type delivery, he keeps it raised, allowing for a more traditional, efficient and quicker motion. Osweiler fires the football with plenty of zip, which leads to plays like the one that capped Thursday's session, when he hit wide receiver Greg Orton in stride for a touchdown, beating safety Rahim Moore.
"Last year, you would see it occur from time to time," Gase said. "He would come back and tell you. He could feel it, 'Oh, I dropped my arm there, and that's why that ball did this.' Now he's more consistent at keeping his arm where it needs to be."
But Osweiler isn't satisfied.
"I'm nowhere near perfect as far as my mechanics. I'm certainly not thinking about them as much as I was last year," he said. "But there's always room for improvement, and every day I'm going in and breaking down (film) -- even our individual drills, they're filmed -- and watching every throw that I make and I'm just trying to stay consistent with my motion and just keep the coaches happy."
It's in his delivery where the entire process comes together. It wasn't enough for him to throw thousands of passes to refine it. To develop properly, he had to study it properly -- something he didn't know how to do last year.
"This year, the biggest difference, I would say, is that I know how to study now. And when you know how to study, you can translate that to the field and you're not out there thinking as much, and you are able to just play on instincts," Osweiler said. "Now I'm not going to say I've perfected that, because I haven't by any means. But it definitely has helped me out a lot of the time, as far as quickening up my reads, understanding where the ball needs to go, understanding the protections -- am I hot this time? Is there a sight adjustment? -- where last year, at times, everything was a million miles per hour. So things have definitely slowed down. Things make a little more sense, which in turn has just allowed me to play like I can."
Osweiler learned how to study -- and more -- by observing Manning.
"I watch everything he does. From our quarterback meeting room to the team meeting room to the weight room to the practice field, games, in the locker room, pre-game, shoot, I even watch what he would do as far as signing autographs pregame at a hotel -- would he or would he not? -- certain things like that," Osweiler said.
By doing that, Osweiler has earned a reputation in the locker room.
"He is a guy that will stick his head in the playbook and really just listen and kind of eat whatever Peyton says," said wide receiver Eric Decker.
Added Osweiler: "(Manning) is the hardest worker on the team -- and that's what a quarterback has to be. I see how he studies, how he comes in with such a professional mindset that he doesn't waste a minute in the building, he doesn't waste a minute in the workday, and that's something I'll definitely try to carry over to my game."
A byproduct of this is that Osweiler has grown as a leader, something that his teammates notice.
"I think Brock's going to be a heck of a player in this league," said running back Jacob Hester, who got to know Osweiler last season through morning and evening cram sessions to learn the offense after being signed in November. "He's really come into his own as far as being a leader in the huddle and really putting guys in places to succeed. When his time comes, he'll be ready."
Added Decker: "He is making a lot better reads, he is throwing the ball to the right person, he's not forcing things, and that is the progress of a young guy showing that he is getting better and understanding the game."
That's apparent from the moment the play call comes in from the sideline.
"Now, I'll get a long play -- and shoot, there's times last year where I just sat there and did everything I could to remember it, so I could say it in the huddle," Osweiler said. "Now, the formation comes in and I already know what play he's going to call with it. With that comes confidence, and with confidence comes better throws, better decisions, and hopefully big plays and more points."
Those are the figures that will define Osweiler's future, and will eventually determine whether the Broncos' faith in the young quarterback is justified. All they have to go on for now is a handful of garbage-time regular-season snaps and plenty of practice work. But that's been enough to raise his stock in the eyes of those who matter.
"The bottom line in this league -- you've gotta have that guy," Elway said. "Looking down the road, you lose a guy like Peyton obviously there's going to be a little bit of a hiccup, but hopefully we can hit ground running with Brock and that really is the plan. And (I) really think that he has the ability to do that.
"We just want to make sure that we're competitive each year and we believe that Brock -- and I believe -- that Brock can be that guy."