The biggest fear that any Denver Broncos fan will have going into the 2012 NFL season is what happens if Peyton Manning gets hurt in pre-season the first time he is sacked and is unable to play? What if he gets hurt halfway through the season when the Broncos are making a playoff run? Whether he would miss one game or the whole season, do the Broncos have viable options behind him or do they still need to add another veteran?
Right now there are three other quarterbacks on the roster besides Manning. They range from the veteran Caleb Hanie to the second-year player Adam Weber to the raw rookie Brock Osweiler. Could any of these quarterbacks take over if called upon for a game or more?
Obviously Hanie is the most likely option to go in if Manning can't play. Even if Peyton is healthy, I would expect Hanie to get some playing time when a game gets out of hand for the Broncos in an effort to protect Manning. Hanie is a bit of a local hero having played for the local Colorado State University Rams just an hour up I-25. He went undrafted upon graduating but was signed by the Chicago Bears as a free agent. Hanie spent three years with the Bears where his most memorable game came in the NFC Championship game during the 2010-2011 season. Filling in for the injured Jay Cutler, Hanie almost brought the Bears to victory by throwing for one touchdown and 153 yards in the fourth quarter.
That performance was enough to ensure his job for another year in Chicago. When Cutler got hurt again in 2011, Hanie was called in to start several games. Unfortunately he couldn't come close to duplicating his success from the playoffs. In four games he almost single-handedly eliminated the Bears from playoff contention by throwing 9 interceptions and accumulating a quarterback rating of 41.8. It's not a surprise that the Bears choose not to keep Hanie. What was more surprising was that the Broncos actually picked him up as Manning's backup given his atrocious play last season.
What makes things more interesting is that if you look at the Broncos depth chart right now it lists Adam Weber as Manning's backup, not Hanie. Broncos fans remember hearing about Weber as the guy who was making one incredible throw after another in training camp last year and who was clearly outperforming future starter Tim Tebow. However, with the trio of Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow, and Brady Quinn all competing for throws in practice while vying to be the starter, Weber was the odd man out and spent the season instead on the Broncos practice squad.
Weber was a very talented college quarterback in four years at Minnesota. He finished his career as only the fifth quarterback in Big Ten history to throw for over 10,000 yards. Clearly he has a strong arm and a lot of experience. What I'm not sure about is why he's listed second on the depth chart. Whether that's a sign that the Broncos do indeed highly value him or they're just listing him higher because he's got more time with the Broncos than Hanie, it will be interesting to see how this backup competition plays out in training camp.
The last guy on the depth chart is rookie Brock Osweiler. Drafted out of Arizona State University in the second round this past April, Osweiler is being billed as the "quarterback of the future" for the Broncos. If the Broncos have their way, Osweiler won't be needed for at least two or three years and will have all that time to develop into a quality NFL quarterback. As someone who only started 15 games in his entire college career, the Broncos will be practically developing Osweiler's skills from scratch.
The Broncos don't want to make the same mistake that the Indianapolis Colts did for the decade that Manning was their quarterback. Although Manning was one of the most durable players in the NFL during his time there, when he did finally miss time due to injury (the entire 2011 season) the Colts had no reliable backup options and that destroyed their season. The Broncos certainly have some promising talent, but I'm not comfortable with Caleb Hanie being the only true veteran behind Manning. I wouldn't be surprised if the Broncos pick up a guy like Colt McCoy if he becomes available. However, it's also equally possible that they may just roll the dice and put all their eggs in the basket that is Peyton Manning and hope that they made the right choice.
Julie is a featured NFL contributor for the Yahoo Contributor Network. A football fan since the crib, Julie started following and rooting for the Broncos when she moved to Colorado in 2001.