ENGLEWOOD – Let the record show Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden liked Case Keenum before the Broncos did.
The two go back a ways, as Keenum had just capped his NCAA record-setting passing career at the University of Houston and Gruden was a popular NFL broadcaster who held a skull-session QB camp for incoming rookies.
Usually Gruden would limit his QB camp to the top-rated prospects but he saw something special in Keenum, who nevertheless went undrafted in 2012. Keenum bounced around from team to team, from practice squad to third string to backup before finally breaking out with the Minnesota Vikings last year.
And then the Broncos showed their love by signing Keenum to a two-year, $36 million contract and giving him the responsibility of becoming their franchise quarterback.
Surprised he made it this far, coach?
“No, I’m not surprised at all,’’ Gruden said Wednesday during a conference call with the Denver media. “I’ve been accused of liking everybody, but I really like Keenum. What he did in college is unseen, the type of production he had.
“I told our people a long time ago when I first came here I think the free-agent acquisition in pro football this year is going to be Case Keenum. What he did in Minnesota, the toughness he puts on tape – he made a throw last week against Seattle -- there’s two or three Seahawks beating down on him and it’s a 14-yard gain.
“His pocket presence, I think his personality, his fight, his grit – he gets the most out of himself. I bet if you ask all those players they have a ton of respect for him. He’s given them consistent, quality play at the position that they haven’t had since Manning left.’’
Peyton Manning retired three years ago. Keenum recalls Gruden taking his QB session with the seriousness of the coach he once was rather than the unique media personality he had become.
“He is literally a grinder, said Keenum, who still holds the NCAA career passing records of 19,217 yards and 155 touchdowns. “It was back in his studio. His office, it looks like a TV set with all the film behind him, but that’s actual film that he stays in there and watches.
“I’m pretty sure he had watched every rep I had ever played in college. He found some obscure tape, I don’t know where he got it from. It was a lot of fun. I got a lot of good feedback and enjoyed it.’’
Come Sunday afternoon, when Keenum’s Broncos play Gruden’s Raiders at Broncos Stadium at Mile High, Denver hopes the former QB camper shows his former QB consultant in person just how much he’s learned.