clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Ananke of Brock Osweiler

Osweiler continues on his developmental arc with the Broncos, but the totality of that arc, and the varied threads that are woven into it, may surprise even Broncos fans.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

As John walks by his son's room, his attention is caught by a note taped up on the bedroom wall, where his son can see it everyday.  It is an unassuming note, a list of goals his son wants to attain.  They are mostly sports related, not surprising since his son had been throwing a football since he was practically a baby.  But a couple of items catch his eye.

Play Division-I sports.  Be an NFL quarterback.

John can only shake his head.  His son is a self-starter, not the kind of kid you have to push towards success, but the kind that knows what he wants and finds a way to get it.  Several items on the list are already scratched off.  John knows that it is only a matter of time for the rest.

For any other 7 year old kid, this might be surprising.

But not for Brock.


Αναγκη.  Anátkh.  Ananke.

Imagine a thread, which began sometime before you were born, and upon which you find yourself balanced for a period of your life; a thread which you come to understand will continue on into the interminable future, with or without you.  You have no control over the course of the thread and you are powerless to change your role within it.  Being part of it is at once the easiest and most difficult thing you can imagine.

Easy, because, for a time at least, it is as if you are free from the burden of difficult decisions.  It is all laid out for you.  Difficult, because it isn't always easy to do what is required of you, all the time.  What if the task laid out seems impossible?

In 2012 Denver marched mercilessly through the latter half of their schedule before being outpunched in the final rounds of a grueling heavyweight battle with the eventual champions.  In 2013 the march is resumed and extended all the way to the Super Bowl before the team is outplayed and outcoached by the eventual champions.  For 2014 the promiscuity of the imagination grabs hold of this thread and projects it into the future.  But for some this logical progression ends in defeat, while for others it is a progression towards success.

Such is Ananke, a post-Homeric Greek personification of our destinies; a figure so profoundly immutable that she was the only god of the pantheon to never receive sacrifices or offerings.  Once she set her sights on you, you simply couldn't change her mind.

Scholars of today see ananke as a primitive form of determinism, or fate, with little relevance to a modern life.

They are doubly wrong.


In 1970, in a small charter highschool in Granada Hills, California, head football coach Jack Neumeier, a split-back veer option coach had once again just missed taking his team to a championship, losing two low scoring games to more talented teams.  Seeking to reinvent his offense, he read two books, one by Glenn "Tiger" Ellison, a legendary Ohio highschool coach, and another by former TCU coach L.R. "Dutch" Meyer.  The first book dealt with vertical routes and how to stretch a defense to its vertical limits.  The second book dealt with wide receiver, flanker and line splits and formations that spread defenses to their horizontal breaking point.  By cherry picking from both concepts, he created an offensive system predicated on a one-back alignment with extra receivers split out creating holes in the defensive secondary, and incorporating option routes which would bind up the linebackers.

The result was a record-breaking offense called the one-back spread and a championship in 1970.  And a revolution in football.

Over the years, Jack would teach his offense to anyone who cared to listen, including two particularly apt pupils, Jack Elway and Fresno State offensive coordinator, Dennis Erickson.  Elway was so enamored by the ideas of Neumeier that in 1976, when his son John was ready to play high school football, Jack sought out coaching opportunities near the San Fernando Valley in order to give his son a chance to play in such a quarterback friendly offense, a rarity in the Veer and Option based worlds of highschool football in the seventies.  Jack was hired by Cal State Northridge, about a mile away from Granada Hills, John Elway joined Neumeier's team, and the rest is Hall of Fame history.  Said Elway of Neumeier, "He was the guy who made me fall in love with football at the quarterback position."

Jack Elway would go on to be the head coach of San Jose State, and he would bring in Erickson to be his offensive coordinator.  For three years Jack and Dennis worked together, honing the core concepts of the one-back spread, and during that time the two families could barely be distinguished.  John Elway found the fatherly Erickson to be as much of a mentor and coach as his own father, and he came into his football adolescence amid the give and take of these two men batting around the ideas that were shifting fundamentally the way offenses approached the field.  Erickson would later go on to establish the one-back spread as a headcoach at Idaho, Wyoming and Washington State before joining the recent National Champion Hurricanes in Miami.  Mike Price would coach Erickson's Washington State-Ryan Leaf-led squad to the Pac-10 title, accumulating 42ppg and over 500ypg, while Erickson added two more National Championships to Miami's trophy case.

All the while, Erickson became synonymous with the one-back spread, seeding it wherever he went.  And one of the places where he went, routinely, was home, to Montana.

Though raised in Washington, Erickson fell in love with Montana and its people as a quarterback for the Montana State Bobcats in Bozeman, and got his start in coaching as an assistant for the Bobcats after he graduated.  He lived and coached in Billings for a year, and then back to Montana State as an offensive coordinator for several years before finding opportunities that would take him out of state, but whenever possible he returned to Montana to share his insights into football with alumni of the two major in state programs, UofM and Montana State, and to recruit from the highschools in the area.  At Flathead High in particular, in Kalispell, Montana, Grady Bennett made a point of talking to Erickson.  The former University of Montana all-American quarterback, and then-coach of the Flathead Braves, called Erickson at one point and told him he had a sophomore that he would want to meet:  "...a field general who towered over his offensive line and possessed uncanny agility."  For Erickson, meeting this prospect was a no-brainer.


It would be wrong to write off ananke as a line of events written in the heavens to imprison us on earth, but so to it would be wrong to not find a place in our lives for the idea of a destiny, small or large.

Ananke was an idea that gained prominence in Greece during an era when the Greek culture bordered precariously on a great age of enlightenment.  They had an impressive grasp of reason and physics, embracing a heliocentric view of the universe and able to calculate accurate sizes of the earth moon and sun, and relative distance from eachother.  They conceived of an atomic scale to the universe (though vested in only four elements) and above all, they were beginning to glimpse the possibility of natural physical laws governing everything around them.  For them, these laws were 'necessary', a part of all things, and from this line, the idea of ananke was born.

An underlying necessity, which could not be escaped by whim, that had the power to govern an individual's life.  Culturally this was often viewed as unfortunate, though not definitively.  To be under the sway of Ananke was to make a choice that would deprive you of all choices except the one.  The terror of war was a common example, where atrocities were made necessary by a choice for security or property.  But ananke also described success in business, or in love, where the desire for a particular dark-haired maiden, or personal estate could set someone on a long path where they must be willing to compete ruthlessly or care passionately or value ultimately.  Half-measures were shunned by Ananke, and perseverance and courage were rewarded, and the eyes came away from the horizon to focus only on the steps that led there, trusting in the 'necessity', the ananke of those steps as the only proof that they needed to be taken.

In many ways ananke was a bittersweet concept.  Embracing one's labors was a necessity of certain choices, but not necessarily a guarantee of success.

But this didn't stop anyone from calling it their destiny.


At that time, Brock was more involved in his basketball career, dominating summer leagues and a legend of the middle school program.  For Brock, his natural height and athleticism made basketball seem like the easy path to choose.  He was 6'4" while still in 8th grade, and he had scored 50 points in a game.  Schools were falling over themselves to court him, and opportunities were lining up faster than he could consider them.  At the end of his freshman year in highschool he gave a verbal commitment to Gonzaga to join their program after he graduated.  A practically no-sweat basketball career awaited him, and a possibility of going on to the pros.

But that list.

He had been throwing footballs as long as he could remember, against walls, against trees, through tire swings.  Replacement balls had become such an expense that his parents invested in a professional bounce-back net.  The alternative might have been to ask him to stop throwing so much, but that was no choice at all.  This was a kid who established his own 6am workout regimen in middle school and devoted hours everyday to practicing basketball, and watching film on football even in the summer.  And the winter was no different.  Once, after a deep Flathead Valley blizzard had buried the town in over 4 feet of snow, Brock patiently cleared enough driveway to practice free throws, just as he had scheduled himself to.  When his hands became numb from the cold, he picked up a football and started hitting targets until the warmth returned.  No one knew what Brock wanted better than he did.

So, during his sophomore season he went to his head football coach, Grady Bennett, and asked if he could send out recruitment tapes to D-1 football programs.

"I said to him, ‘when you just look at what's in the NBA and the number of guys your size, do you see yourself one day playing in the NBA? He was pretty honest. He could see it would be a stretch. Then I said, ‘honestly do you see yourself playing on Sundays?' He said, ‘you know what yeah.' I said ‘Brock, I absolutely agree. That is legitimately within your reach.'"

The calls poured in.  Coaches from as far away as Florida and Florida State showed interest in Brock.  Jim Harbaugh at Stanford couldn't believe he was only a sophomore.  Bennett made sure that Erickson got a chance to come see Brock.  As his highschool career continued, recordbooks were shattered.  In his senior season Osweiler threw for 2,703 yards in 11 games, breaking school records for touchdown passes (29), total touchdowns (42) and total yards (3,463). He finished his high school career with 8,655 yards passing, 80 touchdowns passes and 20 touchdowns rushing.

But for his teammates and coaches, he was showing more than just gaudy stats and potential.  He took his leadership role seriously."I'll never forget the speech he gave before our Butte playoff game when he was a sophomore,"  Bennett said. "Very rarely do you see a sophomore kid stand up and take over a room. And then we went out and won on the road. Everybody just looked at each other and said ‘wow.' He just had some special quality that made you realize that this kid is not only physically gifted, but he was the whole package."

In the end, Brock would graduate high school early to go to Arizona State to play under Dennison, where he was already familiar with the undercurrent of ideas behind Erickson's one back spread.  It was there that Erickson first introduced Brock to John Elway, the player who had cemented the potential of that system for well and good into the subconscious of the game.  Between his friendship with John's son, Jack Elway, and the extremely close relationship he developed with Erickson and his family, Brock was often in contact with Elway, a relationship that deepened over the years.

And though Osweiler started as a true freshman, the then 18 year old player received a painful forearm injury that stifled his development for the rest of the year, where he finished with an under 50% completion rating while shuttling between both basketball and football.  The following season he focused on mechanics and game film and waited and watched as Steven Threet took the snaps ahead of him for six games.  Finally, against a UCLA team that was on a 17-0 roll, Threet came down with a concussion and Brock was thrust into the spotlight.  His improbable 380 yard 4 touchdown performance, with another rushing touchdown for the comeback win, raised eyebrows, but when he defeated rival Arizona the next week, in a contest that in no uncertain terms was being used to judge Erickson's future with the team, it was clear that he was still on track to be a football player.  He immediately quit trying to be a two sport athlete, and in the process, found that the team responded to him differently once his focus was completely on them.

The following season, under threat of losing his job, Erickson was asked to change offensive coordinators, and so he brought in Noel Mazzone.  Mazzone had worked with Erickson previously at Oregon State, and had also worked under Joe Tiller, another of the original one-back spread gurus who learned directly from Neumeier.  Mazzone was well grounded in Erickson's one-back principles, but he brought two pro-quality ideas with him from the Air Raid offense which he helped Osweiler master.  The first was the 'mesh' route, which we have seen Denver use extensively in 2013 (think 'rub-route').  The second was an idea so primitive that it was forward thinking.  It was Hal Mumme's Shallow Cross series, which he picked up at SE Louisiana while on a  visit to Denver, Colorado.  The shallow cross series had been invented by Mike Shanahan to take advantage of the receiving offense he had in Denver in 1996-97, particularly Shannon Sharpe.  Today it is still a staple of Denver's offense, run to perfection by Manning.  Mazzone made huge strides working with Brock, noting that until that junior season, Osweiler had never really focused completely on football, with basketball always on the periphery.  Under Mazzone Osweiler improved his footwork and mechanics to an acceptable NFL level, and before long Erickson was recommending Osweiler (as well as Erickson recruits Gerrell Robinson and Omar Bolden) to Elway for the 2012 draft.

Soon another goal will be scratched off the list.


The line begins before you were, and will be after you aren't.   The line of ananke pulls you toward the goals you have set yourself with an inexorable force that you recognize as the gravity of determination.

I think Brock knows this.

Since arriving in Denver, he has quietly followed the path laid out for him, that he chose 15 years ago.  Yet at 23 years old, he has time to be patient, to continue to learn more about the football philosophy he is so well grounded in, and which will be continued to his benefit long after Peyton's ananke moves on.  He will also learn about Elway and expectations, and hopefully he will learn how to meet and exceed them.  He will learn about the men he will work beside and lead someday.

The only thing guaranteed is the daily labor.  That and the struggle seem to be what have driven him so far. It is good that he appears to love it, and to have a strong grasp of what is required.

For with ananke, the pull of your future is only as strong as your grip on it.