ENGLEWOOD – It’s almost as if the NFL schedule makers thought the first preseason game was a big deal.
Case Keenum against the Minnesota Vikings.
You bet Denver’s new quarterback is excited to take on his former team Saturday night at newly renamed Broncos Stadium at Mile High. So excited, Keenum broke out his impersonation of the strong Minnesota accent.
“Yah, yah, you betcha,’’ he said in a sit-down interview with 9News. “Yah, Minnes-ooo-ta, yah.’
“No, I’m extremely excited. Obviously, been practicing against their defense all last year so I know a lot of those guys, too, so it will be good to see him. But it’s a talented defense. And anytime you get a chance to go up against somebody like that it tests your skills, especially in the preseason.
“I don’t know what the playing schedule is, what Vance has planned for us, but I’m excited and I’m going to want to play as much as I can.’’
Keenum will play. Last year, Broncos head coach Vance Joseph gave three series and 20 plays to starting quarterback Trevor Siemian in the first preseason game at Chicago. Then again, that was a quarterback-competition situation as Siemian was successfully trying to prevent Paxton Lynch from taking his No. 1 job.
Keenum is firmly established as the Broncos’ No. 1 quarterback so a series or two and 12 to 15 plays may be deemed plenty.
That Keenum wound up leading the Broncos and not the Vikings this year was a subject of considerable debate in Minnes-ooo-ta last winter. Keenum led the Vikings to an 11-3 record in relief of the injured Sam Bradford, then came up with the Minnesota Miracle touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs that stunned the New Orleans Saints in a second-round playoff game.
Yet, the Vikings decided they didn’t wanted a good quarterback in Keenum for $18 million a year. They instead opted for the potential of a great quarterback by signing Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins for $28 million a year.
Cousins has consistently built big stats – an average of 4,392 passing yards and 27 touchdown passes against just 12 interceptions the previous three years in Washington. But his play hasn’t led to big winning seasons – an average of 8-8 the previous three years, and a loss in his only playoff start.
Both quarterbacks and the Vikings have been through this before but since they're all converging again to start the preseason, doesn’t it still irk Keenum he was essentially dumped for Cousins?
“No. Even as hard as you guys try to do a little ribbing there, and reminding me of that, but things happen how they are supposed to,’’ Keenum said. “I honestly could not be happier with where I’m at. My family and I love it in Denver. Not just the organization but the city. This is place is incredible. Colorado is awesome. We’re closer to home (in Texas). My dad is fixing to drive up for the game. We love it here. It’s a great spot, great city, great organization and things happen the way they’re supposed to happen.’’
After Keenum and Cousins exchange a couple series in the preseason game that will be broadcast on Channel 20, Siemian and Lynch will renew their competition in the second quarter and perhaps a series into the third. After the Broncos signed Keenum, Siemian and a seventh-round draft pick were traded to the Vikings for a fifth-round selection in 2019.
So, it will be Siemian and Lynch all over again Saturday night.
Then it’s Broncos’ No. 3 quarterback Chad Kelly against Kyle Sloter – the darling of the Broncos’ preseason last year. Sloter, who played his final college season at Northern Colorado, was nevertheless cut by the Broncos despite his excellent preseason performance and picked up by the Vikings, where he spent his rookie season behind Keenum as their No. 2 or No. 3 quarterback.
Just because the first preseason game is meaningless in the grand scheme of a regular season doesn’t mean it won’t be must television viewing from here to Fargo to the Twin Cities.