Sometimes in the summer, Brock Osweiler takes a boat around Lake Coeur d'Alene in Idaho, stopping by his old coach's house just off the clear blue water surrounded by rolling wooded hills. He's known Dennis Erickson for most of a decade, and visits Erickson's home in Coeur d'Alene, the city where Osweiler was born.
The conversation isn't always about football. But last summer there was some of that.
As they talked in the lakeside house, just a few doors down from John Elway's summer home, Erickson could see an eagerness in his former college quarterback's demeanor. Osweiler was reaching the end of his rookie contract with the Denver Broncos and he yearned for a real shot.
"He wasn’t impatient, playing behind the best, but I knew in talking to him he was waiting for his chance and he was getting a little anxious because of that," said Erickson. "Not in a bad way, but he felt he was ready to play."
The Houston Texans certainly agree.
The Texans signed Osweiler to a four-year deal worth $72 million with $37 million guaranteed this month. Giving him that contract signified their confidence in his ability to be their starting quarterback, and it was a commitment both financially and symbolically that the Broncos didn't give.
"I have every confidence he will succeed," Texans owner Bob McNair said. "How good will he be remains to be seen. Will he be average or will he be a superstar. but I think he'll be more than adequate in any case. that's what we were looking for in the past."
Now a Texans organization that has spent most of its existence looking for its franchise quarterback turns to Osweiler. After four seasons of waiting behind Peyton Manning, he's getting a chance to do is something he's believed he could do ever since he was a kid.
"When I step onto the football field on Sunday or Monday or Thursday or whatever that day may be, I’m not going to be thinking about pressure; I’m not going to be thinking about a contract," Osweiler said. "I’m going to be thinking about how can I do my job in the best way possible and help get this football team wins."
Focusing on football
Confidence in his football ability is what turned Osweiler's focus to the sport.
Born in Idaho but raised in Montana, basketball was his first love, perhaps encouraged by the fact that there was talk he might grow to 7 feet tall. He stopped at a mere 6-foot-7.
Osweiler was a well-known AAU player by the end of middle school, and made headlines by verbally committing to play at Gonzaga when he was just a freshman. That it came so early surprised many, including then-Flathead High School football coach Grady Bennett.
During dinner, Bennett asked Osweiler if he could see himself playing in the NBA. Then he asked Osweiler if he could see himself playing in the NFL. The answer to the former was no, while the answer to the latter was a surprisingly reasonable yes.
After all, this was a kid whose father brought him as a sixth-grader to high school practices, upsetting parents of less gifted sixth-grade football hopefuls who weren't invited. He was a kid who fit right in with -- and was taller than -- the older kids, and often was the best quarterback there even in seventh or eighth grade.
"We get a few talented kids, but they just don’t understand," Bennett said. "Yeah, you’re talented in Montana, who cares? But Brock got it. He knew, 'Yeah I’m talented,' but in spite of the incredible natural talent he understood, 'I have to be better than kids in Texas and California and Florida.' ... He combined the natural talent with the desire to work so hard. … Most kids don’t even think like that."
After Osweiler's freshman year at Flathead, the starting quarterback, then-senior Reed Watkins, offered to switch to receiver because he knew Osweiler was better. Watkins became a close high school friend, giving Osweiler rides to his girlfriend's house before Osweiler had a Dodge Durango with a license plate that said "LIL OZ" on it.
He was a football star as a sophomore, one well-liked enough by his offensive coordinator, and later head coach, Russell McCarvel, that he had Osweiler babysit his kids. McCarvel's 6- and 8-year-old sons loved to catch passes from Osweiler. When Osweiler focused on landing a high-level football scholarship, McCarvel helped Osweiler send DVDs of his film to a few Division I colleges.
"Within a couple of weeks I’d gotten a call from Florida State and the first thing he said was, 'Coach, is that really a sophomore? And is he really that big?'" McCarvel said. "Of course both answers were yes."
Arizona State was a natural fit. Erickson was their coach, and he'd played college football in Montana.
"It's not a place you stop to recruit all the time," Erickson said. "… He was a great athlete. He was a dominant basketball player and was a raw quarterback. I told him you could be a really good basketball player, but you could be a great, great football player."
In college, Osweiler took a back seat for the first time. He played in six games, starting one in 2009 and did the same in 2010. He lost a quarterback competition during his sophomore year and only got a chance to play due to injury. He had something to learn.
"His and my last year together at Arizona State, you really saw him start to take ownership in being a top-tier quarterback," said Noel Mazzone, who was Osweiler's offensive coordinator at Arizona State for his sophomore and junior seasons. "Doing all the things besides just being able to throw a football and take drops, but all the other things the great ones have to do becoming students of the game. ... Some guys want to be good, some guys want to be great. That’s what I saw in Brock."
Mazzone, now the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M, saw a player who was able to move on quickly from bad plays and from good ones. He saw someone willing to put in time in the film room. He saw Osweiler's dedication to his preparation improve during his junior season, Osweiler's final year at Arizona State and only year as a starter.
His understanding of the value of preparation intensified as he saw Peyton Manning work.
The '3 1/2-year redshirt'
The Broncos signed Manning in March of 2012, then drafted Osweiler in the second round of that year's draft. Osweiler joined an organization that had what will soon be two Hall of Fame quarterbacks -- one in Manning and another in Elway. Yet another former NFL quarterback was his coach, Gary Kubiak.
But waiting to play, no matter who it's behind, can be tough. He never took any meaningful snaps until his final season with the Broncos. Eventually the wait grew tiresome.
"He told me last year, midseason, 'This is frustrating, it’s like a 3 1/2-year redshirt,'" said Jake Plummer, who got to know Osweiler as a fellow Arizona State alumnus and Broncos quarterback. "I was trying to be a buffer there to keep him ready, make sure he was always doing the little things to prepare like he was a starter, especially with an older guy like Peyton."
Manning's body began to falter midway through last season and Osweiler played in eight games, starting seven. He led the Broncos to wins in his first three starts and split the next four, helping a playoff push that culminated in a Super Bowl championship. Osweiler finished 5-2 with a 61.8 completion percentage, having thrown 10 touchdowns and six interceptions.
The Broncos pulled him from a game against the Chargers to insert Manning. Asked if the benching against San Diego upset him, Osweiler gave a clear "absolutely not" during his introductory news conference in Houston. Behind the scenes, though, that decision stayed with him.
Playing on a team that had one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time on the roster and another one as its general manager had its perks and drawbacks. On one hand, there was the shadow of their greatness that loomed over any quarterback there. On the other hand, Elway and Manning provided a valuable resource for Osweiler.
"I think he used that situation to his fullest in being a sponge and learning all he could learn from that group of guys," said Mazzone, who still talks to Osweiler once or twice a week.
Said Osweiler: "I'll always be very appreciative for Peyton. Whether he knew it or not, I was watching him and he taught me how to be a pro."
All of his film counted when the Texans evaluated him. Texans coach Bill O'Brien and general manager Rick Smith spent days together in a film room. They watched every snap he took in the NFL and decided he had what it took to lead them.
"This guy is a good quarterback," said O'Brien. "He’s got command at the line of scrimmage, he stands in the pocket, he doesn’t look at the rush, he’s standing in the pocket and he’s delivering the ball down the field. He played well in some big games this past year in Denver, and we’re very, very glad to have him as our quarterback."
Osweiler agreed to the deal on March 9, signed the contract on March 10 and immediately set to work getting to know his new teammates with phone calls and text messages all up and down the depth chart. On March 12 he took some time away, and hit a Scottsdale, Arizona, golf course with Mazzone.
"Well, he was hitting his driver really well but he wasn’t putting very well," said Mazzone, who has seen Osweiler's golf game improve during the years, just as he's seen his quarterbacking improve.
"He was ecstatic," Mazzone added. "It was fun to see him so excited about the opportunity he’s got. He was just chomping at the bit to get to work and get his head in the playbook. Get down and get to know his teammates and start getting ready for this upcoming season."
It will be a lot more than that if all goes as planned.