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Broncos' Brock Osweiler goes from understudy, to winning QB, to TBD

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- His current job is to impersonate Cam Newton in practice. Beyond Super Bowl 50, who knows?

Denver Broncos backup Brock Osweiler, perhaps the greatest setup man in NFL history, could be the heir to the Peyton Manning throne or the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns.

Or he could be a key addition to another quarterback-starved franchise willing to build around a 25-year-old who served a four-year apprenticeship under Manning and came off the bench to win five games, succeeding amid the crucible of an intense quarterback controversy.

Without a doubt, Osweiler is the most fascinating nonstarter in Super Bowl 50. Some might paint him as a sympathetic figure -- a guy who deserves to be playing -- but hey, he made a lot of free-agent money with his seven starts, and he gets to soak up the Super Bowl experience in a stress-free position.

Except he’s not wired that way.

“Everybody, whether you’re 12 years old or 40 years old, you want to play in a Super Bowl and you want to win in a Super Bowl,” Osweiler told ESPN.com. “So I’m not looking at it like, ‘I’m only in my fourth year and there are greener pastures ahead.’

“No, I want to win a Super Bowl now, and however this team has to win it, I’m all for it.”

Barring injury, the Broncos will win or lose with Manning, 39, who will be the oldest quarterback in history to start a Super Bowl. But, as you may have heard, this could be The Sheriff’s “last rodeo,” as he called it.

Could be might be underplaying it. In all likelihood, the future Hall of Famer will retire after the season. The Broncos haven’t publicly addressed their future plans at quarterback, but the feeling around Dove Valley is that vice president John Elway will try to re-sign Osweiler before he hits the free-agent market -- assuming Manning calls it quits.

Elway picked Osweiler in the second-round of the 2012 draft, the same year Manning arrived. Osweiler has received the education of a lifetime, learning alongside one of the most cerebral players in history.

“The time I got behind Peyton, I did my best to soak in as much knowledge and information as I possibly could,” Osweiler said.

In one respect, Osweiler can relate to Aaron Rodgers, who spent three seasons behind Brett Favre before he ascended to the top job with the Green Bay Packers. But Osweiler is no Rodgers, according to two veteran talent evaluators.

“I think he’s a developing starter or a starting-potential type who will grow into more of a truer starter with further time on the job,” said an AFC personnel executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

A former longtime general manager, who scouted Osweiler at Arizona State, expressed doubt that he will succeed as a longtime starter.

“You see guys who come in from the bullpen, nobody is used to seeing them -- good supporting cast, a proven system -- and they have some success,” the former GM said. “But for every guy like that, there are three or four others who fail.

“I’m not saying Denver is wrong, but based on what I’ve seen from Osweiler, I’m not overly excited about him. He was just OK at Arizona State. He was drafted higher than anybody thought. I don’t know if he has the instincts for the position.”

Osweiler played reasonably well in his seven starts, completing 62 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and five interceptions. Without him, the Broncos wouldn't have secured the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. He struggled in Week 17 against the San Diego Chargers and was benched after the fifth turnover, setting up Manning’s triumphant return from a foot injury.

Manning rallied the Broncos to a come-from-behind victory and won two playoff games -- even though he looked creaky at times -- to set up a potential storybook ending.

But not for Osweiler. He’s like the Broadway understudy who got a chance to play the lead for a few shows, soaking up the adulation, only to be summoned back to the dressing room before the grand finale.

If Osweiler is angry, he does a good job of hiding it.

“I want to be out there playing on Super Bowl Sunday,” he said. “I want to be out there with my teammates, trying to win a world championship. But at the end of the day, as long as this team wins, I’ll be happy, regardless.”

Coach Gary Kubiak raved about Osweiler’s attitude, giving the impression he would be quite happy to have him as his future starter.

“It’s been tough on him, but he’s been a great pro,” Kubiak said. “That’s why he’s going to be a great player, in my opinion. He got an opportunity, he played well. Obviously, we made the move. He’s learned from that. He’s continued to prepare.

“He’s a great sound[board] for Peyton through the course of preparation and getting ready to play, so I think the way that Brock has handled himself this year tells you what kind of future he has. I think that’s the biggest compliment I can pay to him. He’s been a great team player.”

Someday, it will be Osweiler’s team. Probably. Maybe.