NFL: The case for Keenum: Vikings QB keeps on disproving doubters

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — When Minnesota’s offense huddled for the first time that mid-September afternoon in Pittsburgh, Case Keenum’s energy and confidence quickly filled the circle.

The Vikings were forced to turn to their backup quarterback to start the second game of the season after Sam Bradford’s knee acted up, an ominous development that can doom a team to an autumn of disenchantment and playing for draft pick position.

Despite the decisive defeat against the Steelers that day, though, there was a certain assurance Keenum gave his teammates that suggested they’d be all right.

“He’s a guy you want to play for,” wide receiver Adam Thielen said.

Four months later, the Vikings and Keenum are still playing. They’re two wins away from reaching the Super Bowl.

“It’s been a blast, man. It’s been incredible. I’m sure one of these days I’ll be able to look back and really appreciate it, but there’s so much to enjoy right now,” Keenum said. “Not really putting too much into perspective. Not really looking too much at the big picture. I’m keeping my blinders on.”

With a modest 6-foot-1, 215-pound frame, Keenum was mostly ignored by major college programs despite leading Abilene Wylie High School to its first state championship in football-obsessed Texas. Houston made his only FBS scholarship offer, from then-head coach Art Briles, and by the time Keenum was finished with the Cougars he was the NCAA’s all-time leading passer with 19,217 yards and 155 touchdowns. Yet he still went undrafted in 2012, needing the Houston Texans practice squad to get his professional career off the ground.

Keenum started 10 games over the next two years before being traded to the Rams in 2015, but they made Jared Goff the first pick in the 2016 draft so there was no future for Keenum there beyond being a veteran mentor.

Even Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was among those who typecast Keenum as a just-in-case second-stringer. Zimmer acknowledged recently he didn’t gain full confidence in Keenum until the 11th or 12th game of the season and, when Teddy Bridgewater was cleared to play in mid-November, Zimmer never declared Keenum the starter for more than a week at a time.

“He just wanted a chance,” his father, Steve Keenum, said this week in a phone interview. “He’s got to have the knack. It’s just a God-given, innate thing that he’s maximized by working hard.”

As the oldest of his three children, Case made clear at an early age to Steve that he had the makeup to be an NFL quarterback even if there was no way to predict how the skill set would unfold.

“He was competitive in everything. It could be a board game. It could be playing darts. It could be playing cards. It didn’t matter. But if it had a ball, he wanted to do it,” said Steve, who was a high school and college coach around Texas for 24 years, including 10 seasons as the head coach at his alma mater McMurry University.

Good coaching, starting with dad’s tips in the family backyards, was another success factor.

When Briles left for Baylor, Kevin Sumlin arrived at Houston for Keenum’s sophomore year. Dana Holgorsen, now the head coach at West Virginia, was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. After he departed, Kliff Kingsbury, currently the head coach at Texas Tech, took charge of the quarterbacks.

COMMENTS