Sports

Osweiler in Command

Surrounded by anticipation and expectations, Brock Osweiler is beginning a new chapter as the starting quarterback for the Houston Texans

By early Monday morning, less than 12 hours after a near-perfect performance in the Houston Texans’ 34-24 preseason win over the Arizona Cardinals on Aug. 28, Brock Osweiler had already reviewed film of the entire game, scrutinizing and studying every snap, every step.

No doubt, it was the best game Osweiler and the Texans have played together. Yes, it occurred in the third week of the preseason. Yes, it will be rendered utterly meaningless when the regular season kicks off this week. But it was noteworthy nonetheless — 11 of 13 completions for 146 yards and one touchdown, no interceptions and a 139.1 passer rating. Throwing strong, accurate passes, he was nearly flawless.

Coaches, fans and national media outlets reacted in unison, touting Osweiler’s shining performance as evidence of the new starting quarterback’s promise amid heightened expectations and anticipation.

“I thought Brock went in there and managed the offense well. Made some good throws. I was pleased,” Houston head coach Bill O’Brien told the media afterward. “He’s made a lot of progress. Improved every day. Easy guy to coach. Pleased with where he is right now.”

The noise of celebratory proclamations floated right past Oz. Distractions do not hold a lot of air around this 25-year-old. Not when an entire franchise is riding on his shoulders. Not when an audacious dream rooted in this corner of Montana has actually materialized but risks evaporating at any moment.

There are 32 starting quarterback jobs in the NFL. For the first time in history, as a new season dawns, a kid from Kalispell holds one of them.

“This is truly a new adventure,” Osweiler told the Beacon in a recent interview from his new home, the Lone Star State, about 2,000 miles away from where this football odyssey commenced in the Flathead Valley.

After spending the last four years mentoring under Peyton Manning in Denver, studying the future Hall of Famer’s tactics on and off the field, Osweiler has graduated on to an opportunity to lead his own team. Since leaving the Mile High City in March and signing a four-year, $72 million deal to become the Texans’ starter, Osweiler has capitalized on this rare moment. He and his wife, Erin, took a brief vacation around the Fourth of July to visit Coeur d’Alene, but most of the last few months have been devoted to the task at hand. As the team’s captain, Osweiler has taken a scholarly approach to learning the offensive playbook, upside down and backwards. To build a strong bond among players, he has brought teammates and their families together off the field. He has appeared at numerous public events as the face of the franchise. He has handled the inundation of media attention with polish and poise, even through two rough preseason performances and the constant prodding of a major media market.

“I think being a leader is something that has always somewhat come natural to myself going back to my earlier teens,” he said. “Ever since I was young, I really wanted to be that leader and I wanted to lead by example. I wanted to be a role model for others on how to do it the right way. Once I got to the NFL, I’ve tried taking it to the next level of being a constant leader, always trying to find an area that I can get better on.”

This is the type of leader Houston invested in heavily despite the fact that Osweiler has only started seven NFL games and drawn mixed reviews from some experts in the league.

Indeed, this type of heightened self-determination and self-assurance is not new. As a third-grader at Fair-Mont-Egan, he attached a list of goals to his bedroom wall and gazed at it daily. One by one, he checked items off the list, including playing Division I sports.

Now his greatest childhood dream, rooted in his backyard and Legends Stadium, has come true.

Osweiler isn’t taking it lightly. He has worked with a sports psychologist—a “mental enhancement coach”—who has helped the young man hone his leadership skills and mental fortitude. There are few jobs in the world as heavily criticized as a professional athlete, and even in that elite category quarterbacks receive the sharpest scrutiny of all.

“(Leadership is) such an important part of the game. Being one of the leaders on our football team, it’s something that I take a lot of pride in,” Osweiler said.

What about all the pressure? Since signing the four-year deal, Osweiler has been the subject of even more discussion: Is he worth that amount of money? Will he be able to lead the Texans back to the playoffs?

“It’s funny you say ‘pressure.’ A lot of people, including coaches, have asked me about that. To be honest, I don’t feel any pressure,” Osweiler said. “I don’t recognize the pressure. Certainly I know you could definitely describe it as pressure because of the contract, because this was a team that was in the playoffs last year and we have high expectations and a talented offense. One of the things I’ve been coached to do—I only focus on what’s relevant and relevant to success. If I get involved and get focused on irrelevant factors that really don’t pertain to what I need to do on a daily basis, that doesn’t help me achieve my goals. I keep a narrow focus. I call it a laser focus on the task at hand that day.”

Osweiler can certainly talk the talk. Now it’s his time to prove the important part. Last year, without a steady starting quarterback, the Texans were 9-7 and won the AFC South. This offseason, the team invested in building a Super Bowl contender, bringing in Osweiler as well as running back Lamar Miller and a few linemen to support the pocket. The defense is one of the best in the league, led by all-pro defensive end J.J. Watt. Osweiler will also have one of the rising stars in the NFL, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who has spent a considerable amount of time working with and praising his new QB this offseason.

Houston is picked to battle with Indianapolis for the AFC South title again. The Texans open the season at home against Chicago on Sept. 11.

What success will this team have? In many ways, that will be determined by their new franchise quarterback.

And how will he define success this season?

“You never really want to look past the next game or the next practice. Certainly this football team has very lofty goals,” Osweiler said. “I’m not going to put a stamp or exact term on it. I can tell you that we are going to take a day-by-day approach. Right now our team goal is to be 1-0.”

It can still seem incredible that this moment has actually arrived: a kid from Kalispell starting at quarterback in the NFL. As a rare athlete growing up in the Flathead Valley, Osweiler always had a special kind of potential, the type that actually exceeds imagination. And here is the culmination of those great prospects.

“I’m a firm believer that if you have motivation and hard work, nothing beats hard work,” Osweiler said. “If you can combine those with the motivation to be great, and be a great person, nothing will top that.”

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