KUSA — There probably aren’t many NFL quarterbacks who begin their journey dreaming of becoming the next Jeff Garcia.
But Case Keenum could do a lot worse.
What was cool about Keenum when I told him he had a chance to become the next Jeff Garcia is, one, he didn’t get mad and storm out of our 9NEWS studio at the Broncos’ UCHealth Training Center.
And two, he didn’t have to look up Garcia’s accomplishments. He already knew them.
“Yeah, I know Jeff,’’ Keenum said. “Tremendous player. He did it really well for a really long time. I appreciate you comparing me to him. That says something.’’
Keenum was considered too small at 6-foot-1 to play in the NFL and was undrafted in 2012. He was released three times and spent his first five NFL seasons as a backup in three cities before finally breaking out as a starter at 29 years old last season in his fourth city, Minnesota. Keenum threw 22 touchdown passes against just 7 interceptions in posting an 11-3 record for the Vikings in 2017.
Garcia was considered too small at 6-1 and was undrafted in 1994. He began his professional career as Doug Flutie’s backup with the Calgary Stampeders where he played five seasons.
He joined the NFL as Steve Young’s backup in 1999, then broke out as an NFL starter at age 30. Garcia had 31, 32 and 21 touchdown passes (against 11, 10 and 12 interceptions) at ages 30, 31 and 32 to earn two Pro Bowl and two playoff appearances.
Asked once by Roy Firestone how Garcia is so successful despite his limited stature and skill set, Garcia said something to the effect that playing quarterback really comes down to making instant decisions while 21 other guys are flying around the field at the same time. And at least four are specifically coming after you.
“Yeah, there’s a lot of different keys to playing quarterback. That’s very close to being a very important one,’’ Keenum said. “I try to be me. I try to play quarterback like I know how to. And I try to add tools to my belt. I try to perfect my craft. I try to work on my craft, I try to always get better.’’
Keenum does look small out there, but while practicing with the Broncos through OTAs, minicamp and training camp, it doesn’t seem like he any trouble seeing Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and the rest of his receivers. Is there a trick to being so small yet seeing so well over all those bigger bodies?
“Well, I think I’m still growing,’’ said the ever jesting Keenum. “Maybe not. That’s who I am. I play with rhythm and timing. I try to make sure I get the ball out on time. If I know exactly where my guys are going to be at all times, then I don’t have to see where they’re going to be. I just know.
“I can see based on how Emmanuel’s cutting a certain way -- this is how he’s going to come out of his break. I can tell by the way D.T.’s running that he’s going to take this angle on a certain play. And then be able to see and recognize the coverages and then you just know where these guys are supposed to be. It’s a matter of finding the right guy that you need to make a read on and then throwing the ball where it’s supposed to be. And that’s why we’re communicating, why we’re talking, getting guys where they need to be -- so I know where they’re going to be, and they know, that I know, that they know, that I know, that they know where they’re supposed to be.’’
And they know it all before the snap.
“It’s all even before the game is even played,’’ he said.
Garcia had another great run with Philadelphia in 2006 at age 36, and 2007 with Tampa Bay at age 37, when he was selected to his fourth Pro Bowl.
So Keenum, who just became a homeowner with his wife Kimberly for the first time in the Denver-area, is going to need a longer contract than the two-year deal he signed in March with the Broncos.
“Well, we’re betting on ourselves,’’ Keenum said. “We want to be here a long time. I want to finish a Bronco. But we’re going to take it a week at a time – that’s going to be my motto here. You’re going to get tired of me saying that this year. But I’m only looking at this week.’’