ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (The Sports Xchange) – Three and a half years of understudy work prepared Brock Osweiler for this moment. But now that he finally has his first career quarterback start scheduled in place of the injured Peyton Manning, he must face the coaches that know him best: Bears head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who was also Osweiler’s first position coach in 2012.
They watched his practices for three seasons. They planned for a long-term future with him at quarterback. And now they will try and get Osweiler’s starting career off to a rough start.
“I’m sure that (Gase) knows a few things,” Osweiler said. “How many secrets and things like that? Shoot I don’t even know what I have. I hope he doesn’t look too hard into that and try to do a crystal-ball thing over there, but at the end of the day, it’s just a football game.”
A football game that the Broncos need. Even though they still have a three-game lead in the AFC West, the surging Chiefs have played the meat of their schedule, while the Broncos still have home games remaining against the undefeated Patriots, 8-1 Bengals and a trip to 6-4 Pittsburgh in Week 15.
Manning and the Broncos’ offense struggled this year. His 9-to-17 touchdown-to-interception ratio was the league’s worst. At one point the Broncos went eight-plus quarters without an offensive touchdown.
So although there will be some inevitable hiccups as Osweiler adjusts to his new role, it’s not as if the offense was shredding the league, anyway. If Osweiler can avoid the same kind of mistakes Manning made in recent weeks — particularly 14 interceptions in the last six games — then that might be enough with a defense that still leads the league in yardage allowed per game and per play.
He led the first-team offense in practice most Wednesdays this season. He took first-team repetitions every third or fourth day in practice during OTAs and training camp. And, of course, there’s the years as Manning’s backup and the Broncos’ long-declared “quarterback of the future.”
The future is now.
“It’s a dream come true. It really is,” Osweiler said. “Growing up in Kalispell, (Mont.), obviously there’s a huge following of the Denver Broncos and there are a lot of Broncos fans. I remember watching John (Elway) as a kid and Jake (Plummer) and the rest of those guys.”
Osweiler is not just playing to keep the Broncos atop the AFC West. He’s playing for his long-term future, as well.
Although he downplays the impact of this game and any starts to come on his future, his expiring contract lurks over his first start — and any more he might make while Manning heals.
If Osweiler does well, he could earn himself a massive raise in Denver — or the chance for free-agency riches elsewhere. Broncos general manager John Elway has consistently declared Osweiler as the team’s “quarterback of the future,” but until now, he hasn’t had any regular-season repetitions to use in evaluating whether the 2012 second-round pick is worthy of receiving a second contract.
Osweiler says he hasn’t thought about his contract situation.
“(I) really haven’t,” he said. “I think anytime you put the weight of the world on yourself saying, ‘I have to perform,’ or, ‘I have to get a completion. I have to throw a touchdown,’ nine times out of 10, I think you’re going to fail.
“I’m really keeping my focus small. I’m focusing on the things that got me to this point and just focusing on going into Chicago and doing whatever it takes to get that win.”
Added wide receiver Demaryius Thomas: “My confidence is high. I know that he can make plays and I know that he can deliver the ball around the field.”
And if he can deliver it accurately, that would be an upgrade over what the Broncos experienced early last week — and might get the offense back to league average, which with their defense, might be enough.
SERIES HISTORY: 15th regular-season meeting. Series tied, 7-7. Bears have won two of the last three. The most historic meeting between these two teams was on Dec. 11, 2011, when Tim Tebow led the Broncos back from a 10-0 fourth-quarter deficit to a 13-10 overtime win.
–It’s a bit too late in the season for the Broncos to reinvent their offensive wheel. But it would be no surprise if the Broncos craft a game plan designed to take advantage of Brock Osweiler’s skill set, while also being more in line with the offenses head coach Gary Kubiak ran in Baltimore, Houston and his first Broncos stint as offensive coordinator from 1995-2005.
Osweiler admits that he might not know what the Bears’ defense will dial up, but the Bears also can’t be certain what Kubiak will craft for Osweiler, either.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
–Broncos CB Aqib Talib vs. Bears WR Alshon Jeffery.
Talib returns from a one-week suspension to face a stiff challenge in Jeffery, who has averaged 7.2 receptions for 103 yards per game this season and has three 100-yard games in the last four games since returning from an injury. Talib’s two pick-sixes in the first six weeks of the season helped fuel the Broncos’ 7-0 start; he might have the chance for another if Jay Cutler tests him.
–Broncos LBs Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan vs. Bears RBs Matt Forte and Jeremy Langford.
Forte was limited in practice Wednesday, and if he returns in time for Sunday, he could give the Bears one of the best 1-2 punches at running back in the game. Langford is rolling, having gained 182 all-purpose yards last week in St. Louis. Marshall and Trevathan are one of the league’s best linebacking duos against the run, but they could have their hands full.