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SB50: Denver Broncos face tough call at QB in 2016

By Jeff Reynolds, The Sports Xchange
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Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning speaks to the media in Santa Clara, California on February 2, 2016. The Denver Broncos will play the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, February 7. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/1584cba1adf9a15252b7dfc70c59ad2c/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning speaks to the media in Santa Clara, California on February 2, 2016. The Denver Broncos will play the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, February 7. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Brock Osweiler was responsible for the Denver Broncos reaching the playoffs, but his position for Super Bowl 50 is backup quarterback.

With Peyton Manning felled by a torn plantar fascia plate, Osweiler got the call to start only his 13th game since graduating high school and his first in the NFL after three years as Manning's backup. His limited experience was not a detriment.

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"Before his first start, at Chicago (Nov. 22), coach (Gary) Kubiak had him speak to the team," wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said of the Broncos' ritual of having a player deliver a message the night before games. "He stood up with confidence and told us 'Don't worry about me. I'm ready.'"

It might be only one more game before Osweiler becomes the franchise quarterback.

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He can become an unrestricted free agent when the new league year begins March 9 and Denver undoubtedly will keep him close while Manning, 39, determines his own future.

It's expected Manning will not be back for the final year of a contract that could pay him $19 million. After the AFC Championship win over the Patriots last month, NFL Films cameras caught Manning telling New England coach Bill Belichick "This might be my last rodeo, so it's been a real pleasure."

Manning said four days later that he couldn't "confirm or deny" what he told Belichick.

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It was evident Thursday at the Santa Clara Marriott that the majority of Manning's teammates expect this to be Osweiler's team in 2016.

Kubiak, who was once John Elway's backup and came to Denver as an eighth-round pick in 1983, the same draft in which Elway was the No. 1 overall pick, said Osweiler's time behind Manning was a godsend.

"The biggest thing I'd say for Brock is that nowadays in the National Football League when guys are drafted high, they don't get the luxury Brock has had. Brock has had a chance to grow up under a Hall of Famer and be coached extremely well and has a chance to come up, I don't want to say the right way, but the way a lot of guys were able to come up through the years many years ago," Kubiak said.

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"I think he's benefited from that, being around Peyton (Manning) on a daily basis, as a worker, in the meetings, as a pro, so I think he's benefited from that."

Manning, of course, did not want credit for Osweiler's development and it was the veteran who delivered Denver's biggest wins of the season -- Week 17 in relief of Osweiler, the victory that clinched home-field advantage for the Broncos and two playoff wins by a total of nine points. Osweiler had a higher passer rating (86.4 to 67.9), more touchdown passes (10 to 9), a higher completion percentage (61.8 to 59.8) and 11 fewer interceptions (Manning threw 17).

The past, and the future beyond Sunday, are not topics that Osweiler wants to discuss. You can almost hear his pro mentor in responses on free agency and his spot with the Broncos going forward.

"I'm just thankful and happy that when my number was called this season that I was able to step in and just help my team win some football games," Osweiler said. "When free agency comes up in the offseason, we'll address stuff like that. We'll address it after the season."

Osweiler's value could become a sticking point. Several teams will be in the market for quarterbacks as is annual ritual in the NFL. The Los Angeles Rams, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers could be among the teams ready to dial Osweiler if he somehow reaches the open market.

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The decision could ultimately be Manning's. If he surprises the team and decides to play next season, it would almost assuredly need to be at a reduced salary. The Broncos have priorities to address elsewhere, including potential free agent Von Miller. If Manning walks away Sunday night as most expect, then the Broncos can climb one step in the decision-making process and determine Osweiler's worth.

Osweiler started only 12 games in college but was able to win four of his six starts in the NFL, dropping a three-point game at Oakland and 34-27 at Pittsburgh in a game the Broncos led 27-13 at halftime. Manning is a believer.

"Well, Brock went out there and just flat did it," Manning said. "Like I said, easily could've gone 6-0 as a starter. I knew he was real comfortable in this offense, I think that helped, but he went out there and just flat did it."

NOTES

--Peyton Manning is playing in his fourth Super Bowl with four head coaches - Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell, John Fox and Gary Kubiak - but often gets labeled as a coach on the field. Kubiak was baffled that a description he believes to be an extreme compliment would be construed as a negative or imply a power struggle.

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"That's a compliment to players," Kubiak said Thursday. "I got to coach John (Elway) for a period of time, I got to coach Steve Young for a time in San Francisco, and now I get a chance to spend a year with Peyton. Those great players, they challenge you as coaches. They're so bright and they understand the game, they understand how to attack things. They challenge you when you walk in that meeting room.

"To be honest with you, from a coaching standpoint, that's what you want to be around because that's how you grow as a coach. Peyton is brilliant in his approach and getting ready to play, but he's also a tremendous leader and a teammate. Nobody has more fun with his teammates than he does. It's been a joy."

Manning, 39, said he heard from all of his previous coaches, including Phillip Fulmer, his coach at the University of Tennessee.

"I do think about coaches when you play in a game like this. Every coach has different styles, different philosophies," Manning said. "I have enjoyed learning something from all of them, all of those men I mentioned I have learned a great deal from and tried to apply it to my game and the way I approach things. I have enjoyed learning from (Denver Head) Coach (Gary) Kubiak this year. Continuity is always a great thing, but when you do have a chance to play for some different coaches, I think you want to take advantage and learn from them. I am grateful for all of those people and I have learned something from all of them."

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--Broncos left guard Evan Mathis said 10 teams called when he was released by the Eagles in June.

After discussions with his agent, Mathis decided to sit tight for a few weeks, thinking a contender would be calling with an immediate opening at guard.

Sure enough, the Broncos and a second team that Mathis would not name Thursday called. The other team was offering twice as much. The only player in Super Bowl 50 who has played for the Broncos and the Panthers - who drafted Mathis in the third round in 2005 - wasn't sure if he would play beyond the 2015 season. The math, if counterintuitive, always looked simple to Mathis. The 34-year-old picked Denver.

"This was the plan. The plan is working as I hoped it would," Mathis said. "I just kept telling myself I can't see myself going somewhere for more money when I know I could come here and win a title."

Mathis, who was hobbled by injuries in in the past three games, said he will be ready for his headline matchup with fellow Pro Bowler Kawann Short. Short leads the Panthers in sacks with 11.

"He's got a very good bull rush and very long arms," Mathis said. "He plays so hard, generates a lot of pressure. He's the total package at defensive tackle."

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