ENGLEWOOD, Colo—When the Denver Broncos made Gary Kubiak their next head coach, a lot was made about how Peyton Manning would fit into his system. So far, so good. Also, with how Manning literally limped into the playoffs in 2014, General Manager John Elway and Kubiak began talking early on about resting the five-time league MVP whenever possible.
It’s already begun. Kubiak is already telling Manning to sit out practice, in an effort to rest him and keep him fresh, whether Manning likes it or not. But also, because the team wants to give Brock Osweiler more reps. Gone are the days of John Fox, where Manning would consume every practice repetition with the first team, while Osweiler looked on.
Following organized team activities today at the team’s Dove Valley facilities, Kubiak talked about why he’s resting Manning, and other veterans, so early in the year.
“I know a lot about those other players [veterans], you know what I mean? I’m trying to really rep those other guys,” Kubiak said. “I’m also trying to see how [QB] Brock [Osweiler] reacts and how [QB] Zac [Dysert] reacts when they take the football team and they get it for a day. Last week, that day that we did, it wasn’t very good. Today it was actually pretty good. I liked the tempo of practice. There are always mistakes, but we practiced a lot better with our young players today than we did last week.”
Kubiak, in most economical fashion, wants to maximize the impact of each player on the field. So what does an accomplished 14-time Pro Bowl quarterback do when he’s not actually in the huddle with his teammates?
“I’m standing back there talking to Peyton during the periods and stuff,” Kubiak said. “We encourage them that if they’re going to ‘sit,’ they’re not going to sit. They’re going to coach. They’re going to help. They’re going to be involved with what’s going on. I think they know how important it is that the youth of our football team gets better. I see them all involved and they will stay involved. It’s not a total day off.”
As for Osweiler, he is embracing the opportunity to get more reps with the ones. For a competitive guy like him, it must not have been easy to sit on his thumbs so often under the Fox regime.
“First of all, I absolutely love it,” Osweiler said after practice today. “I’m getting more reps than I’ve ever gotten as a Bronco. [QB] Peyton [Manning] is out and I split time with [QB] Zac [Dysert]. I’m getting twice what I usually get. It’s very valuable to a new player, and especially in a new offense. You can only study so much in the classroom. You need to get out to the grass and you need to go out there and run those plays. The more reps you can get, the better you’re going to be.”
When the Broncos say that Osweiler is going to play in 2015, it sounds like they mean it. Now, that shouldn’t be misconstrued. Manning is the starter, but unlike his predecessor, Kubiak has a strong enough personality to tell his 39-year-old quarterback when to ride the pine. If the Broncos are up big in a game, Kubiak isn’t likely to wait until the final four minutes to insert Osweiler.
And that could pay off for the Broncos in more ways than one. First, it will keep Manning fresh and hopefully healthy, so that when the playoffs roll around, his body is in a state to compete and weather the increased physicality of the NFL postseason. Second, the Broncos will get to see what they truly have in Osweiler.
The best case scenario is that Manning plays out the totality of his contract, which would keep him in Denver through the 2016 season. Osweiler is playing in a contract year. If Elway remains committed to Manning as the starter, but still envisions Osweiler as the heir apparent when he retires, he’ll have to find a way to extend Osweiler while Manning’s still active.
Without giving Osweiler some real in-game opportunities to find out whether he can see the field, make the reads, stay patient and lead the huddle, the Broncos would be faced with deciding whether to extend his contract blind. Sure, they’ve learned enough about him over the last three years in practice and preseason to like his potential, but seeing is believing and there’s nothing like live bullets to see how a young player performs under fire.
More Broncos Stories
In the meantime, Osweiler is learning how to play quarterback in Kubiak’s offense, with the primary focus being under center. It’s an adjustment, after playing mostly in the shotgun throughout his young career.
“It’s good,” he said. “I like it. You get your hand on the ball a little quicker. You’re able to make some reads that maybe would have taken a little bit more time than gun. There are obviously a lot of new things going on, but there are a lot of good things going on.”
One of Kubiak’s big point of emphasis is on his quarterbacks’ footwork. When a QB is executing a five or seven-step drop, it requires a fine-tuning of technique and it can impact the player’s performance in a variety of ways.
“It entails everything,” Osweiler said. “Everything about this offense—your feet tie into your progression. You guys have probably seen a coach on us pretty good about that. It’s telling you on one hitch the ball should be going here. If you’re taking one, you should be moving to here. If you’re taking two, you should be moving to here. Once again, it’s one of those newer things. I think it’s going to be a really great thing in the long run.”
It’s exciting times at Dove Valley. Change is in the air and although that can breed trepidation in some, Elway’s mantra has been “adapt or die”. He and Kubiak go way back to their playing days together and have won Super Bowls with one another. They share a philosophy and it’s the little things, like resting their veterans, that could pay big dividends for the Broncos in 2015. Elway's 1998 Super Bowl ring is proof that such an approach can be key. Just ask Bubby Brister.