ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --** Brock Osweiler remains the quarterback of the Broncos' future -- a future whose exact date is unknown.
But most relevant to the 2014 season is that he is the insurance policy in case Peyton Manning is injured. It's "Plan B" as in "Brock." He has had two years of seasoning. He's seen some spot mop-up game experience, including the entire second half of the regular-season finale at Oakland last December.
The reality of a collision sport is that at some point, the hopes of a veteran, talented team may rest on Osweiler's shoulders. The only question that really matters is simple: if needed, is he ready?
"One hundred percent. One hundred percent," he said, repeating himself for emphasis. "I really could not be more comfortable with this offense. I could not be more comfortable with playing quarterback in the National Football League. Whenever my time comes, and my chance is given to be the guy in a regular-season game, I will be ready."
To date, his most extended opportunity came in the second half of last year's regular-season finale at Oakland. Although the Broncos led 31-0 when he took over, the offense was not in milk-the-clock mode; 15 of 31 plays were passes. Osweiler was accurate, completing 9 of 13 passes, but was limited to 85 yards and sacked twice. He led the offense on a pair of decent marches -- 38 and 43 yards -- but just one of five series ended in points.
"There's still certain plays that I can vividly remember, where if that same situation happened in another game, I won't make that same mistake, and we will have a completion, or we will have a first down, or whatever that situation may be," Osweiler said.
Osweiler added that he has studied the tape of that game multiple times, including during the recently completed, four-phase offseason period. That became a base from which he could grow, particularly in the cerebral aspects of quarterbacking an up-tempo offense. Through meetings with offensive coordinator Adam Gase and quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp, he's learned how to distill his pre-snap defensive reads down to what matters, ignoring the clutter and distractions.
"Instead of seeing the entire defense, you're closing in your vision on just a couple of keys, which gets your progression and where you take the football moving faster," said Osweiler.
"The biggest growth that I've had this spring would be mentally. Mentally deleting decisions pre-snap by understanding what the coverage is, what our play is designed to do, and I think that's something that kind of comes with just being in the offense for two full years now, going on three.
"With deleting decisions pre-snap, and having a better understanding mentally of the game, I'm able to play faster and to my true ability."
Every NFL quarterback has to learn this. It's possible to suffer from paralysis by analysis, because on the surface, there can be an overwhelming amount of data points before the snap: a safety creeping into the box, a slot cornerback positioned off the line and in a spot from which he can blitz, a defensive end dropping into coverage, and on and on.
"You look in the past, and maybe I was out there thinking a little bit, and I wasn't sure exactly what to do," Osweiler said. "Now, I'm comfortable in the offense, I understand what we're trying to get accomplished, and I'm just able to play football."
That was evident during the practice of June 16, when he completed back-to-back deep passes in perfect stride to his targets and decisively connected on passes all around the field. He dropped one deep pass to Jacob Tamme in tight coverage, since he's learned that Tamme needs only the smallest of windows to make the play. He hit Cody Latimer with a high, laser-like strike in the back of the end zone, knowing that the rookie can get up for a pass that the defender cannot reach.
"We like the way that Brock's progressing," said Head Coach John Fox during OTAs.
There were ups and downs for Osweiler, as he readily admits, but the June 16 practice offered a glimpse of all the work coming together.
"As far as everyday practice goes, yeah, there's been great moments and low moments, but I think the biggest thing is seeing improvement, and not making the same mistake twice," he said. "And for the most part, we've done that."
The compressed offseason has been crammed for Osweiler. In addition to his study of the playbook and his on-field work, he completed the requirements for a bachelor's degree from Arizona State University. As part of that, he interned in the campaign office of Andrew Walter, a former NFL quarterback running for the U.S. House of Representatives. Walter seeks to represent Arizona's 9th Congressional district, which includes Tempe, where both starred for the Sun Devils.
Osweiler studied political science, so the connections were obvious. Politics is one realm that intrigues the bright, affable young quarterback -- but those possibilities can wait, hopefully for a long time.
For now, Osweiler's next target is the preseason, and turning his practice-field improvement into something that translates to live game action.
"This preseason is very important to me. I want to show everybody in the organization that I am the guy that they originally drafted, that I can go out there and lead our team to points and first downs, and make good decisions with the football," he said.
That opportunity cannot come soon enough for the eager young quarterback.