ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — That’s what 18 months as No. 18’s understudy looks like.
Brock Osweiler followed Peyton Manning’s cameo appearance Thursday night with his most productive day in a Broncos uniform in Denver’s 10-6 exhibition win at San Francisco.
Although he didn’t produce any points as the Broncos’ battered offensive line had its hands full with the 49ers’ relentless pressure, the second-year pro out of Arizona State displayed his accuracy and athleticism in completing 13 of 18 passes for 105 yards.
After completing just two passes as a rookie, Osweiler has looked much more comfortable in running Denver’s offense this summer, helping the Broncos breathe easier and giving Manning a high-quality backup, the likes of which he never really had during his time in Indianapolis.
While it was pretty much accepted last year that the Broncos’ playoff chances would disappear if Manning’s neck issues resurfaced or he otherwise got hurt, there’s no longer a foreboding sense that there would be a huge drop-off if Osweiler is pressed into duty.
Osweiler looks nothing like the wide-eyed rookie he was a year ago when he began his apprenticeship under Manning with his head spinning, his mechanics needing tweaking and his selection in the second round of the NFL draft being hotly debated by a fan base eager for a Broncos championship.
He’s decoding defenses, threading throws over defenders, letting plays develop downfield — a lot like Manning, actually.
“Yeah, that is a tribute to his work ethic,” Broncos coach John Fox said. “He has got a pretty good teacher there in 18, and he has handled that very well. He has grown from it, and I think he just continues to improve.”
Osweiler said another year under his belt has him feeling much better under center.
“Last year, things were coming at me a million miles per hour,” he said. “Things have really seemed to slow down. I think a large credit to that is just the fact of having an offseason. In that offseason, I was given time to study, look into the playbook further. Why are we calling this pass play? Why are we calling this run play? What does this protection actually do? Now things have slowed down to the point where I’m able to just go out there and play and not think as much.”
Because his head’s no longer spinning, “I’m able to make more plays downfield, which I wasn’t really ready for last year. It was a lot of check-downs, quick throws, because I didn’t understand the offense completely,” Osweiler acknowledged.
Osweiler might have been the first quarterback taken in this year’s draft if he had stuck around for his senior year with the Sun Devils, but he figures that learning from Manning is better for his football future anyway.
“Brock has really worked hard this offseason,” said Manning, who figures to play plenty in the Broncos’ next exhibition game, Aug. 17 at Seattle.
If there’s one thing Osweiler has learned from Manning, it’s to prepare as though he’ll be starting. Because one day he will be.
“People say I’m the future, I’m the heir apparent. Those are only words,” Osweiler said. “I have to go out there, I have to earn that right.”