Texans Camp: This Is Osweiler’s Team
HOUSTON—This is a different Brock Osweiler from the one I remember last season in Denver. That was never his team. It was Peyton Manning’s team. But this Houston group, the coaches and the players, treats Osweiler like he’s the no-doubt franchise quarterback. Interesting: Osweiler may get more respect in this place, where the fans and teammates and coaches have never seen him play a football game in a home uniform, than he would be getting right now in Denver, where he started seven games last year.
I thought on Monday I might be able to divine the real reason why Osweiler’s here, when I spoke with him after the Texans practiced inside the bubble at their facility across the street from their home stadium. No chance. He learned too much from his time in Denver—ironically, he told me, so much of it from being Manning’s caddy for both of their careers in Colorado—to relive something bound to be painful to someone.
“There are a lot of reasons why I decided to go to Houston, and with all due respect, I don’t want to go completely into that question,” said Osweiler. “It’s August. The one thing that I will say is I love the football team, and I came here to be a part of this second-to-none organization, from the top down, from Mr. McNair [owner Bob McNair] to the coaching staff to a locker room full of players I respect. I viewed this as a special opportunity, and I have absolutely no regrets with the decision I made.”
I have my theories, but they’ll remain theories, because Osweiler has kept a tight lid on why he left a Super Bowl champion with a suffocating defense and two excellent wideouts. One theory is Osweiler (and Manning, for that matter) were both more fond of Adam Gase’s offense, which they ran before Gary Kubiak became coach before last season, than Kubiak’s. And there was no way the Super Bowl-winning head coach was dumping his offense now. Two is that the offer in Houston was better, with $7 million more in guaranteed money than Denver’s deal, and a higher average per year. Three: Osweiler was sore about being benched at the end of the season and replaced by a recuperated Manning for the playoffs, something Denver GM John Elway referenced in an interview Monday and Osweiler brushed off.
Smart. It doesn’t do any good for Osweiler to exhume his thoughts on Denver, particularly if some were negative. Time to move on.
So … about the different Osweiler. My last memory of him with the Broncos: In the locker room after the Super Bowl win in Santa Clara, with the celebration in full force and reporters swarming Broncos players, Osweiler, dressed to leave, was digging in his locker to pack up and go. Manning hadn’t even taken his uniform off yet, and the mob was around him, and Osweiler just sort of put his head down and scurried from the locker room. “We’d just been told buses would leave in 45 minutes, and I was ready to go,” he said. “So a couple of teammates and I left and went and got a beer at one of the clubs in [Levi’s Stadium] before the bus left. That’s all that was.”
But now, here, he’s in charge. He’s done so much already in chemistry class. He rented a big suite for one of the Copa America games at NRG Stadium in the summer and invited everyone on the team; most came. He footed the bill for all the receivers to come to Phoenix and work out with him during the spring at his alma mater, Arizona State. He brought the other quarterbacks and their significant others to his home in Idaho for a few days of R&R and football talk.
And he seems so comfortable with being The Man, as if he’s been in training for it while in Denver, and even before that. He gestures decisively on the practice field in training camp and approaches DeAndre Hopkins or Will Fuller with (sometimes) pointed words about the route they just ran. He throws extra balls to the rookies if they haven’t had enough reps, even with the heat index at 120 degrees. “He is the kind of player and leader you want in your starting quarterback,” said GM Rick Smith, watching Osweiler practice on Sunday. “You have to have a presence as a starting quarterback in the NFL, and he has it. The word I use about him is ‘authentic.’ He fits the position, and he fits us.”
Watching him practice, the one thing I noticed was his command of the offense, his decisiveness. For someone who’s had to know different offenses (Gase, Kubiak, Bill O’Brien) in each of the last three years, his seeming comfort in the offense is impressive. On Sunday he made two throws that impressed me. The first: a simple wheel route to rookie fourth-round back Tyler Ervin circling out of the backfield that hit him right on the hands as the kid turned his head to the quarterback to find the ball. The second: a deep nine route with a stutter-fake to Hopkins.
“I think what’s cool is he’s good with me making points to him, and he’ll correct something I do if he thinks it’s wrong,” said Hopkins.
I asked Osweiler what he took away from playing with Manning. I wondered if that had anything to do with his presence and early hold on the locker room.
“What I learned?” he said. “There is a laundry list. You can only imagine three-and-a-half, four years with him. There wasn’t a day I wasted being around him. Watching him, trying to learn, ‘Why’d he check to this play? Why’d he pick that receiver on this route?’ Because I knew Peyton wasn’t going to be there every day of my career, I had this unbelievable resource. But the one thing I really took with me was Peyton’s approach to the game every single day. How to be a pro. Whether that be training camp, OTAs, day 14 of training camp, nighttime, you’re exhausted, you’re tired, but you still have to have that focus … how he handled things inside the locker room, how he carried himself. I watched his press conferences. I watched everything. The thing I take away from him and I hold closest and I’ll always hold closest is how to be a professional quarterback in the National Football League. In all ways.”
Just listening to him say that—whatever Osweiler truly feels about the last two months of his Denver career—really impressed me. He gets it. Will he be a great player? Don’t know. But with him, you worry about nothing except what happens between the lines.
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Five Things I Thought About the Texans
1. This backfield could be special. The game still will dictate roles among a deep group, but I won’t be surprised if offensive coordinator George Godsey calls the numbers of Lamar Miller and Tyler Ervin more than anyone. Miller, certainly. But Ervin (in carries, catches and returns) will be heard from early.
2. Bill O’Brien just wants Jadeveon Clowney to stay on the field, and good things will happen. Obviously, Clowney’s first two years (17 games played, 16 games missed due to injury) have been disappointing. The sheriff of the Houston press, John McClain, told me here that Clowney, after last season, said he was going to come back this year prepared to dominate the league. Well, I was here for two practices, and Clowney missed both with a minor injury. “My point about Jadeveon,” O’Brien said, “would be, ‘Don’t be concerned with dominating the league. Just be out there every day.” That’s a start.
3. There is zero concern that DeAndre Hopkins won’t get a contract done here. “I had DeAndre in my office yesterday,” GM Rick Smith told me Sunday. “We talked. We have a history with this organization—we take care of our guys.” Hopkins is due $1 million this season, and his deal runs through the end of the 2017 season. Houston likely will re-do the deal with one year left.
4. Houston’s certainly capable of winning the AFC South, but that road schedule: bruising. To win 11 games, the Texans will have to steal a roadie or three, and it’ll be tough out of division. Road frays: New England, Minnesota, Denver, Oakland (in Mexico City), Green Bay. Every one of those non-division foes could win double digits (and I include Oakland in that group). Osweiler’s got to come up big in a couple of those.
5. Cushing will miss A-Rod. Linebacker Brian Cushing, a Yankees fan from Bergen County, New Jersey, said he felt like it was “the end of an era. First Tex, now A-Rod.” For those not well-versed in Yankeedom, that’s the retirements of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez (or whatever that thing was with Rodriguez on Sunday).
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