Osweiler more than impressive during Spring Game

ASU junior Brock Osweiler made a throw in Saturday’s spring game that reminded me of a guy I saw in 2003.

Osweiler’s double-pump, back-foot, no-velocity-lost, 20-yard touchdown pass to senior George Bell in the corner of the end zone was the exact play Ben Roethlisberger, a junior at Miami of Ohio, made when he came into Ft. Collins and threw for close to 400 yards in romping my hometown Colorado State Rams.

Raw.

Obscene.

Arm strength.

It’s now one of Roethlisberger’s signature throws, one that isn’t duplicated around the league by smaller quarterbacks. There are quarterbacks who throw harder, but not without generating a lot of hip torque — something Roethlisberger doesn’t need.

Over the last eight months I’ve become convinced this is a good comparison.

Roethlisberger was a receiver in high school until his senior year and was overlooked as a quarterback recruit. He also doubled as the basketball team’s star point guard.

Remind you of anyone?

Back in 2003, Roethlisberger was just starting to get attention from NFL scouts as he tore through the Mid-American Conference.  Roethlisberger’s strengths were obvious: built like an offensive tackle, elephant gun attached to his torso, an elephant in the open field.

There were weaknesses too: Roethlisberger didn’t have the quickest release (certainly not like Philip Rivers); some said he had flawed mechanics, and he was criticized for holding the ball too long. Those are Osweiler’s weaknesses too.

As a pro, Roethlisberger really hasn’t improved his weaknesses as much as he has adapted his strengths. He is one of the most unconventional quarterbacks of all time. He is strong, elusive and difficult to take down, even by lineman.

He’s a playground quarterback — a magician when the play breaks down. Roethlisberger mastered the skill of keeping his eyes downfield while he scrambled. No. 17 has the size and shiftiness to be the Wizard of Oz.

Osweiler, like Roethlisberger at Miami, will take all of his snaps out of the shotgun.

On Saturday, Osweiler was perfect, making every conceivable throw look easy. Deep fades down the sideline, fitting balls into small holes on intermediate routes and — gasp — putting all of his swing-passes to the sideline on the money.

Osweiler, like Roethlisberger, is a somewhat unrefined player who has the mysterious ability to raise his play on game day.

Saturday’s spring game was the best he’d looked all spring according to most, much as his immaculate performance off the bench against UCLA was the best he looked over the course of four months of practices.

And if last year’s comeback against the Wildcats is any indication, Osweiler shares Roethlisberger’s most important attribute — one that he purportedly picked up from his idol John Elway. He can stay poised in the final quarter of a close game even if he looks like he’s never played the position for the first 45 minutes. He can overcome three quarters of confusion and face-down a raucous crowd and a defense fighting for a bowl game, and win on pure guts.

ASU coach Dennis Erickson said Saturday’s performance from the offense was the best he’d seen in a spring game.

Cynics point to the lack of a blitz, injuries and apathy from the defense, but let’s not forget that if last year’s offense could have executed a swing pass with a modicum of consistency last year, it gets national headlines for wins against Wisconsin, Oregon and USC.

ASU’s defense is still very good, and it beats the offense in practice because it’s very good, but the offense is legit.

Far more exciting than any uniform change, with the emergence of a group of underclassmen on defense (see Vontaze Burfict’s improved leadership and work ethic), ASU has a chance to even exceed its highest expectations in 2011 because of Osweiler.

Given the size of its senior class, ASU is in a one-year window to compete for the Rose Bowl, or even beyond the Rose Bowl. If it doesn’t happen this year, expect wholesale change.

Osweiler is showing signs of a guy who can take a really good team to completely unexpected heights — which might not only earn him a high-paying job next April, but also save some here.

Reach the columnist at nick.ruland@asu.edu