Why Denver Broncos' Brock Osweiler might be good enough to win it all

Brock Osweiler is 2-0 as a starter, and his veteran teammates see a QB who is "poised." AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Working on the assumption that Brock Osweiler will remain the quarterback of the Denver Broncos, and that John Elway hasn't tempered his win-now urgency in the wake of Peyton Manning's injury, Denver's season has been reduced to one relevant question:

Is Osweiler good enough to win the Super Bowl? Or, better yet: Are the Broncos good enough to win the Super Bowl with Osweiler as their guy?

But to understand where Osweiler is or isn't heading, it's important to understand where he has been and how he ended up as Manning's potentially permanent replacement on a team built to win it all.

Matt Lubick stands among the influential voices who advised Elway to draft the 6-foot-7 quarterback out of Arizona State, and the story is kind of complicated. It starts, Lubick said Tuesday, "on a cold, winter day in Helena, Montana." He was an Arizona State assistant coach looking for a pocket quarterback who could scramble when necessary, and the search landed him inside the high school gym at Helena Capital, where Osweiler, a junior for Kalispell's Flathead High, was busy showing people why Gonzaga had offered him a basketball scholarship he'd verbally accepted after his freshman season.

Football coaches are fond of measuring their recruits' athleticism on the basketball court, and Osweiler didn't disappoint. But he played so damn hard, too, on both ends of the floor, and Lubick thought he radiated a vibe of extreme confidence while maintaining an ego-free approach to lesser teammates. The recruiter thought this trait would transfer perfectly to the quarterback position.

And then Lubick watched his prospect throw the football. Though he was too busy working for Dennis Erickson on Saturdays to see Osweiler live, Lubick studied every Flathead game on tape. The recruiter was born in Bozeman and had played his college ball at Western Montana; he was well aware that Montana high school football didn't quite measure up to the Texas game played under the Friday night lights.

The films never lied anyway. "Brock was a man among boys out there," Lubick said. "He wasn't that heavily recruited or highly publicized because you might have one BCS guy a year coming out of Montana, and he wasn't playing against great competition or throwing to Division I receivers. He was throwing to all these undersized, good, tough Montana kids, and half the season they're playing in snowstorms.

"But no matter what the situation was, every ball he threw was right on the money. Some were dropped, but he didn't miss on a single ball. I've been doing this over 20 years, and he's one of the most accurate quarterbacks I've ever seen."

Lubick didn't only need to persuade Osweiler to attend Arizona State instead of Gonzaga; he needed to persuade him to play college football instead of college basketball. In basketball, the recruiter argued, there's a surplus of players 6-7 and taller with the agility of much smaller men.

"I told him that guys with his size and athletic ability in football, playing quarterback, are really unheard of," Lubick said. "I thought he would be a good basketball player, but an unbelievable football player."

As it turned out, Osweiler wasn't unbelievable enough at Arizona State to become its full-time, full-season starter until his junior season, long after Lubick had left to take a job coaching receivers at Duke. Osweiler declared for the draft after throwing for 26 touchdowns and 4,036 yards in 2011, and this is where the story gets a little nuts.

Fired by the Indianapolis Colts after undergoing four neck surgeries, Manning was working out at Duke under the guidance of David Cutcliffe, his former offensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee, when Elway stopped by for a look at his prized free agent. Lubick's father, Sonny, had been an assistant for Elway's father, Jack, at Stanford, and Lubick himself had recruited Elway's son, Jack, to Arizona State, where, naturally, young Jack Elway befriended young Brock Osweiler.

So John Elway trusted Matt Lubick's opinion enough to ask him if the Broncos should be interested in taking Osweiler in the upcoming 2012 NFL draft. "I think the guy's a steal," Lubick told Elway. "You can't go wrong with him. Brock's as good as it gets, and I had nothing to do with it."

Elway had already seen enough of Osweiler to be leaning in that direction anyway, but the endorsement didn't hurt. The Broncos picked the Arizona State quarterback in the second round, with the 57th overall pick, and groomed him to do what he just did -- replace the Manning, now 39 years old. Osweiler beat the Chicago Bears on the road in his first start and beat the 10-0 New England Patriots at home in his second.

Now an assistant at Oregon, Lubick believes Osweiler has the requisite leadership skills and poise to take the Broncos as far as their talent will allow. "He reminds me of Marcus Mariota, whose biggest strength for us was that he never got rattled," Lubick said. "Brock can play at a high level no matter the circumstances. He's the same guy whether he's up 10 points or down 10."

But the recruiter who helped sell Osweiler on football over basketball has to stop there. His brother, Marc, is an assistant on Gary Kubiak's staff in Denver (of course he is), and the family doesn't need a quote supporting or refuting the notion that Osweiler should stay in Peyton's place in the event Manning returns.

Marc has told Matt that Osweiler has been a pro's pro behind the scenes, that his teammates like him, and that he has been an eager student under the willing teacher inside Manning. Does that all add up to a quarterback capable of being the last one standing in the 50th Super Bowl?

It's a good question to run by the quarterback who took a more difficult route to winning the 25th.


Jeff Hostetler had it rougher with the New York Giants than Brock Osweiler has had it with the Broncos. Hostetler had to wait until his seventh year, not his fourth, to assume control of a team from a Super Bowl champ and established star. And even though Peyton Manning established a legacy Phil Simms couldn't touch, Simms was playing much better when he suffered his foot injury in 1990 than Manning was playing when he suffered his injury last month.

So on a certain level, Hostetler actually had the tougher act to follow. To complicate things, Hostetler had decided to retire just days before Simms went down in a Week 15 loss to Buffalo.

"I remember going home and being at the dinner table that Wednesday night and telling my wife, 'That's it. I've had it. I'm done,'" Hostetler said Tuesday by phone. "Six-and-a-half years is a long, long time, and you don't get into that position by being complacent or satisfied just getting a paycheck. I knew I could play, but there just weren't any opportunities. ... I might be the only NFL quarterback that ever blocked a punt, ran the ball and caught a pass before I ever threw one. I tried everything I could to get on the field."

When he finally got his chance, Hostetler went 2-0 to close out the regular season, and then 3-0 in the postseason, including his 20-for-32, 222-yard performance in the Super Bowl upset of the Bills. Hostetler didn't throw any interceptions in his five starts, and he, like Osweiler, added an element of playmaking ability with his feet that the previous starters (Simms, Manning) didn't have.

"If you move around the pocket and use your legs a bit, it puts more pressure on defenses," Hostetler said. "I'm not saying it's any better; it's just different. Osweiler brings something different to the table than Peyton, and the Broncos can take advantage of that."

Now a builder of residential homes in Morgantown, West Virginia, and overseer of a nonprofit organization (The Hoss Foundation) that supports children and families in need, Hostetler can laugh over the memories of events that once left him a second-string mess. In one practice session as a rookie, he accidentally threw a pass into the back of the head belonging to a Giants assistant named Bill Belichick, inspiring a profane response. Years later, Hostetler screwed up a play in relief of Simms and was welcomed back to the bench by the sounds of Bill Parcells threatening to put him on the street the following day.

"But when my first real opportunity came," Hostetler said, "I knew there might never be another. I had to be prepared to put us in the best possible position to win. I didn't want to be the one that was the weak link."

Like Osweiler, Hostetler knew he was supported by a championship-level defense designed by a widely respected coordinator (Belichick then, Wade Phillips now). Like Osweiler, Hostetler knew he had earned the respect of his teammates with his work ethic and consistency in practice.

"So Osweiler doesn't need anyone to tell him anything," Hostetler said. "He knows you can't put it all on your shoulders, and that if you do your job and get the ball in guys' hands and allow them to make plays, they will. That's all he has to do.

"Denver has a great defense that's playing well, similar to what we had. As important as it was to have all the offensive guys rally around you as the new quarterback, it was really important to have the defensive guys rally around you. I knew those guys had my back."

If Osweiler seems to have inspired the same response, hey, it's early. Two games don't send a quarterback to Canton on roller skates, as Parcells would say, and if the Broncos ever make it to the AFC Championship Game, chances are Osweiler would have to pull off the highly improbable -- beating defending champ Tom Brady again, in Foxborough, with the stakes a lot higher than they were in Denver on Sunday night.

Then again, 25 years ago next month Hostetler did enough to conquer a challenge just as forbidding -- beating Joe Montana, two-time defending champ, in Candlestick Park. "Denver's got all the pieces of the puzzle to do it," Hostetler said. "But it's a long road between now and then."

No longer than the road to Peyton Manning's job from a cold, winter day in Helena, Montana.