KUSA – Playing good quarterback in the NFL is sometimes about trying to be consistently ordinary.
Get rid of the ball quick. Throw it short. Stay patient. Then about six passes in, try to pop one down the seam.
Case Keenum came close to mastering the art of the controlled passing game while leading the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC Championship Game last season. His style carried over to the UCHealth Training Center this offseason when for the first time he was given charge of the Broncos’ offense.
Keenum showed he is not afraid to dump off to the backs in the flat or tight ends or receivers a few yards beyond the line of scrimmage. If the pass rush was coming, he got rid of it.
“I always thought that it was my job to get the ball out of my hands, get it into the fast guys’ hands and let them do something with it,’’ Keenum said six weeks ago following one of the Broncos’ offseason-ending minicamp sessions. “If I’m stuck with a ball, usually it’s not a good result.’’
Keenum had as many touchdown passes (22) as sacks taken (22) last year.
His backups, Paxton Lynch and Chad Kelly, still must develop patience. Then again, Keenum is 30 years old and in his seventh NFL season. And this after he spent six years in college for the Houston Cougars (including two redshirts).
Lynch is 24 going into this third NFL season; Kelly is 24 who essentially redshirted his rookie season in 2017.
Their preference is to throw the ball downfield, which can mean holding on to the ball an extra half second. Then again, Lynch and Kelly are young gunslingers trying to first win the competition for backup quarterback, and eventually supplant Keenum as the Broncos’ starter.
Can’t open eyes dumping off to the backs.
With the 2018 Broncos holding their first training camp practice Saturday morning starting at 9:30 (parking and admission are free and open to the public), 9News continues its positional preview with a look at the most important position in sports: Quarterback.
Overview: Even if Keenum can single-handedly make a difference for the Broncos, I’d stop short of calling him a franchise quarterback. A proven starter who spares the Broncos the uncertainty of a quarterback competition? Yes.
But a franchise quarterback to me is Peyton Manning, not Eli. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, but not Matthew Stafford or Andy Dalton.
It was interesting that Keenum, at an average of $18 million a year, only wanted a two-year contract to sign with the Broncos. That makes him only the 19th highest-paid QB in league. He is confident he will have a second big season that would put his second contract at $20 million-plus a year.
As for the backup position, it would be best for the Broncos if Lynch wins the job. He is a first-round talent. Kelly was the last pick in the 2017 draft, although two ACL surgeries were a factor in his slide.
Still, Lynch is bigger, has a stronger arm and runs better than Kelly. But they don’t call Kelly “Swag” for nothing. He has the intangibles to lead a team.
Strength: For the first time since Peyton Manning retired following the 2015 season and Super Bowl 50, the Broncos have an established starting quarterback they like. Trevor Siemian was an established starting quarterback going into last year, but the Broncos’ brass wanted Lynch to beat him out.
Having a quarterback who everyone in the locker room knows is the guy helps team morale. It gives a sense of locker-to-locker confidence knowing that if each player does his job, the quarterback will handle the rest.
Question mark: Keenum had a big year for the Vikings, yet they let him go. As his own former coach Mike Zimmer asked: Is he the Keenum who bounced around the league for five years? Or the Keenum who can lead a team to the brink of a Super Bowl?
The Broncos quickly passed on pursuing Kirk Cousins in free agency and went after Keenum, believing he was a better value at $10 million a year cheaper. We’ll see.
Pro Bowl material: If the 5-11 Broncos become a playoff team this year, Keenum will likely have had a Pro Bowl-caliber season. Lynch has Pro Bowl talent. Kelly has Pro Bowl swag.
Sleeper: Kelly. I wouldn’t be surprised if he tore up third-string defenses in the preseason and put some pressure on Broncos’ decision-makers to give him the No. 2 job.
I still think that because he hasn’t played in nearly two years, he needs at least half a season of practice reps before he starts dressing on game day. But should the season go a little south on the Broncos, Kelly has the type of personality that can provide a spark.