ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --** They were the insurance policies the Broncos never needed to use. But at some point in the future, the team's hopes may rest on the young quarterbacks who sat behind Peyton Manning on the depth chart last season.
Brock Osweiler's development remains the focal point of the Broncos' future hopes for a smooth transition and a team that fulfills executive vice president John Elway's mantra of being able to win not just now, but "from now on." He saw his most extended action as a pro in the regular-season finale at Oakland, and showed enough progress to buoy quarterback coach Greg Knapp's confidence.
"I was pleased to see Brock's performances in the preseason get better in each game, and then he played a pretty good second half against Oakland in this last regular season game, and I feel like he's making progress," Knapp said.
Added head coach John Fox: "He has definitely improved. He's way further ahead this year than he was a year ago. I think he's got a comfort level. Of course, the time he spends with Peyton, I think, is a great benefit. But he's smart, he's got all the athletic tools and now it's just a matter of getting opportunities to play the game."
But the selection of Zac Dysert in the seventh round last year provided the Broncos with another option -- and, at minimum, another young passer to push Osweiler in his development. Dysert's on-field experience doesn't match even Osweiler's as a pro, and he never even got to wear a jersey for any of the Broncos' regular-season or postseason games in the 2013 season.
Dysert, who mainly worked on the scout team last season, is exposed to the same sort of intense, detail-oriented preparation that Osweiler has now experienced for two years working with Manning.
"These two young guys are in a think tank on a daily basis -- that might be the best one in the profession," Knapp said. "There's a lot of open discussion with the coaches that are in the room, along with the other QBs, that gives them a thought process that another quarterback wouldn't get as much, and this think tank, they're applying at a young age to learn and hopefully come through."
And to make sure the quarterbacks get enough repetitions, Knapp used every possible moment of practice this season to reinforce the lessons of the classroom.
"The way it's broken up, there's offense/defense, and then there's a special-teams period. During those special-teams periods, I'm grabbing those young guys and we're going to the other field, and we're working some of those specific mechanics that they feel like need to be developed -- or that I've seen need to be developed, as well," Knapp said.
Between Manning and the experienced mentorship that Knapp has provided, the backups' time with the Broncos can be likened to graduate school for quarterbacks.
"Without a doubt. The defense is more complex. More checks, more reads. Obviously a higher volume, as well," said Dysert. "It can get overwhelming at times, but you just kind of have to put your head down and grind."
The lessons are not only technical, but personal.
"The thing that I've learned that has its highest value is how to be a professional. How to be a professional quarterback and how to be a professional quarterback in the National Football League," Osweiler said. "Fortunately, from being around (Manning) the last two seasons, I've really learned how to conduct myself on a daily basis."
One example came last week.
"We're driving to media day, and Brock opens up his notebook and is reviewing his notes on the way to media day," said Knapp. "A lot of guys didn't even have their notebooks."
Osweiler and Dysert have put in the diligent work. But to develop into NFL starting quarterbacks, that is far from enough, and without more experience, their prospects will remain a guess.
"It's still hard to evaluate. I believe they do (have starting potential), but until you play games, I've learned as a talent evaluator and as a coach, you don't really know what you have until they play a game in the NFL," Knapp said. "But they have the traits that say, 'Yes, they'll be starters in the NFL.'"
The lessons will continue into the offseason. But as long as Manning remains healthy and successful, the true test for Osweiler and Dysert will have to wait.