HOUSTON -- Brock Osweiler has developed a pregame routine.
The Houston Texans quarterback stands by the tunnel, high-fiving each player as the team makes its way onto the field for warm-ups. That's something Osweiler has always done, he said, because he wants to get everyone fired up to enjoy the day and make the most of the moment.
Osweiler will follow this pattern in Denver on Monday night, where he will make his return to Sports Authority Field at Mile High when his Texans play the Broncos.
As Peyton Manning's understudy for the Broncos, Osweiler saw the warm welcome Manning received when he returned to Indianapolis to play the only franchise he had ever known.
But unlike Manning's celebrated return, Osweiler's might not be as welcoming, as he is back for the first time since he signed a four-year, $72 million contract with the Texans during the offseason.
Though he might be booed in Denver on Monday night, his conduct in the locker room and off the field in his first season in Houston has been exactly what you would want from your franchise quarterback, even if his play on the field is still a work in progress.
"[His energy] exuberates through the locker room and guys start to feed off of that," backup quarterback Brandon Weeden said. "We're like, 'That's awesome. I'm going to lay it on the line for that guy.'"
From disastrous to special
Through three quarters on Oct. 16 at NRG Stadium, it looked like a disastrous game for Osweiler. The Texans were trailing the Indianapolis Colts and appeared to be headed toward a loss that would have dropped them from first place in the AFC South the week before a Monday night marquee matchup with the Broncos. Then Osweiler led the Texans to two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to tie the game, and Houston won in overtime.
As Osweiler attempted an interview with NBC on the field after that game, he was interrupted a few times by teammates who wanted to show him how excited they were for him. Cornerback Charles James II ran up and jumped on Osweiler. Pro Bowl receiver DeAndre Hopkins came up behind his quarterback and put his arms around him.
Weeden said that was the most excited he has ever seen Osweiler.
"That was pretty special for him," Weeden said. "I was happy for him, because it was obviously a very clutch performance there down the stretch. That was really the most emotion I'd seen from him.
"He was fired up, not only out there, but in here. He was excited for the guys in this locker room."
That comeback performance was Osweiler's best moment on the field with the Texans. Monday night in Denver will be just his 14th career NFL start, but the contract he signed in March brings much higher expectations than there would be for a typical rookie at the beginning of his career, fair or not.
Through six games this season, Osweiler has completed 59 percent of his passes for 1,402 yards with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. He has a total quarterback rating of 49.9, which ranks 29th in the NFL.
Perhaps the most surprising part of Osweiler's start of the season is that he has struggled to connect with Hopkins on the field. Last year, Hopkins developed into a stud receiver for the Texans, finishing the season with 111 catches for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns.
In the three games prior to the Week 6 matchup against the Colts, Hopkins had 10 catches for 116 yards and one touchdown. After the third game in that stretch -- the Texans' blowout loss to the Vikings -- coach Bill O'Brien and Osweiler said they needed to focus on getting Hopkins the ball more. Against the Colts, he had nine catches for 71 yards and was targeted 15 times -- the highest number of the season for any Texans receiver.
But even with Osweiler's up-and-down season, O'Brien said he believes his quarterback does a good job managing his emotions no matter how things are going.
"He was grinding over 4-footers. He's extremely competitive. We were just having a good time. And that was really the first time I'd been around him outside of football, so that was funny to see."Brandon Weeden on Brock Osweiler, the golfer
"I'm sure there are some times when it's eating him up inside when we're not moving the ball and he wants to do well for his team, but I don't think he ever shows that," O'Brien said. "I think he's got a really good demeanor on the sideline.
"There's a case in point of that in the Indianapolis game. If you're a guy that's losing your poise, you're going to have a hard time coming back in that game. A guy that keeps his poise hangs in there with the ups and downs. That's a guy that has a chance to bring his team back, and that's what happened."
A competitor no matter the stakes
Osweiler began to build relationships with his new teammates soon after he signed with the Texans.
In April, Osweiler organized a workout session and invited backup quarterback Tom Savage and the receivers group to Arizona State, his alma mater, to work on football, but also to get to know each other. During training camp, Hopkins pointed to that week as part of the reason the chemistry between Osweiler and the receivers had picked up so quickly.
Later, in June, Osweiler and his wife, Erin, hosted Weeden, Savage and their wives, as well as some of their friends from the Broncos, for a long weekend at his house in Idaho. The group spent the time getting to know each other over dinner, drinks and, of course, golf.
Weeden, who claims to be the best golfer in the group, said he saw just how competitive Osweiler can be while they were playing a round of golf during the trip. Weeden said he gave Osweiler and Savage eight strokes on each side to help even the playing field. And even though they were just playing for drinks after the round, Weeden said Osweiler did not let the low stakes affect his determination to win.
"He was grinding over 4-footers," Weeden said with a laugh. "He's extremely competitive. We were just having a good time. And that was really the first time I'd been around him outside of football, so that was funny to see."
The work to get ready for the season continued, as his teammates and O'Brien watched Osweiler spend a lot of time in the film room, learning the playbook and trying to master the Texans' offense. O'Brien has praised the amount of time Osweiler spends and how hard he works in that area, saying, "The guy does everything. I'm not really sure there's much more he can do off the field."
Osweiler apparently flashed some of that competitive fire recently when he reportedly got into a heated exchange with O'Brien after a meeting during the week following that 31-13 loss to the Vikings. And though the report painted the exchange as a negative outburst -- perhaps a sign of a rift between a head coach and his quarterback -- O'Brien said that is just the intensity of how he works.
"Anybody that's been around me knows that I really only know one way to go about it," O'Brien said. "That's to work very hard and to do it in a very intense environment.
"We coach hard. The players play hard. Sometimes that's the way it goes. That's what makes it fun to coach and that's what makes it fun about this league."
'Laser focus' on Denver game
Weeden said the golf in Idaho was one of the few times he could think of where Osweiler showed off his competitiveness off the field. Normally, he said, Osweiler is "super laid-back."
Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz said Osweiler is easy to talk to. "He's just anything you want in your quarterback," Fiedorowicz said. "I like everything about him, really."
Dennis Erickson, Osweiler's coach at Arizona State, who now coaches at the University of Utah, said he has seen Osweiler lead by example ever since he recruited him out of Kalispell, Montana.
"From the first day I met him when he was in high school, you could tell people followed him. People admired him, people believed in him because he did what he said and was just a great competitor."Dennis Erickson
"From the first day I met him when he was in high school, you could tell people followed him," Erickson said. "People admired him, people believed in him because he did what he said and was just a great competitor."
Left tackle Duane Brown, who saw eight quarterbacks start a game in the five seasons before Osweiler's arrival in Houston, said that he thinks his quarterback "has the qualities of a natural-born leader."
"He has great confidence in himself," Erickson said. "And when you have great confidence in yourself like he does, you know you're going to do what you're going to do. He's not a screamer or yeller -- that's not his personality."
When Osweiler is on the field, he quickly puts aside the laid-back temperament, and the competitive quarterback comes out.
"He knows when to turn it on and turn it off," Weeden said. "When he comes to work, he works his tail off and strives to be his best."
And this week, Osweiler has taken that switch to another level. He said his goal is to have "laser focus," which he does not think is possible if he allows himself to think about what it means to him to be playing in Denver in week.
"I think emotions can take you out of the game," Osweiler said. "I was taught very, very early in my career that you need to have laser focus on your job and doing your job at a high level.
"So I feel like if I let outside noise and things that really aren't relevant to the game plan and emotions that aren't relevant to the game creep in really -- at the end of the day -- all it's going to do is take me out of my game. So that's why I'm trying to keep it as normal of a week as possible."
And that's why he’ll be right outside that tunnel in Denver on Monday night, hyping up his team for perhaps his biggest test of the season so far.