Back during the Cougars media day, head coach Kevin Sumlin was asked about what type of improvement would be seen from quarterback Case Keenum this season. It's kind of trick question because, frankly, if one looks at the UH record book, there's really not much room for Keenum to improve, so many team records does he hold.
Yet one of the keys for the Cougars this season is the continued improvement as a quarterback of Case Keenum.
"I don't know how much better he can be..." Sumlin answered. "Obviously, he has made strides every year that he's been here. Each year we sit down and we talk about where we can improve as a team, and individually...he's the first one in the door."
Sumlin spoke of how Keenum's been working on his physical strength, and on his arm strength, working so as to make passes he's not been able to make in the past. And Sumlin also spoke on how much Keenum's improved as a team leader, about how he's gotten more vocal in what he needs from the team, and in what he demands from them.
"I don't think that there's anybody who works harder than him in the off-season, not only on the field and in the weight room, but in watching video," Sumlin said, "...mentally, he certainly has been there since last year, physically he's better. As a leader he has grown from a lead-by-example guy to a more vocal leader. Around here, that's the way that you do it. You don't come in here the first day that you play, and then start telling people what to do."
If you look at the preseason awards watch lists, you can't help but see the name of Case Keenum. If there's an award that it might be possible for Keenum to win this season, then he's on the watch list. If you ask Keenum, he's nothing without his teammates. He might be the one getting the credit and awards, but none of it would be possible without his coaches and the other ten players out there on the field with him, especially those big guys in front of him.
"It goes back to the offensive line," Keenum says. "That's where it starts. They go, we go, that's kind of our mentality. If the offensive line's going, we're going, then we're going. That's how it goes. As far as running the ball, passing the ball, whatever it takes, it goes back to the offensive line, that's for sure."
The Cougar offense is a definitely an explosive offense. But it relies on precision, on all of the parts moving precisely. Keenum sometimes has mere seconds to make a read and get rid of the ball. And in those split seconds, his receivers and backs have to be seeing the same things he is, making the same reads, and getting to the right spot.
Receiver Tyron Carrier spoke last year about it almost being a psychic connection, and he spoke with pride about his ability to work in tandem with Keenum so as to be where he needed to be when he needed to be there. And that is something that Keenum and running back Bryce Beall worked on this past off-season, especially since Beall, coming off a disappointing sophomore season, is going to be more important than ever due to the absence of last year's primary running back, Charles Sims.
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"It's different than most offenses," Beall said of the version of the spread offense run by the Cougars. "The standard back usually has to worry about running power and sweep...[but here] you have to be able to catch the ball out of the backfield, and also be able to run the option route. That's one of the things me and Case worked a lot on this summer, was working on option routes."
And Keenum, like the good vocal leader Sumlin says he has become, has some definite expectations for Beall. Expectations which will make the offense that much better.
"Bryce does a great job of getting open out of the backfield, and I'm going to count on him being open," Keenum says. "That's one of those things where, going through my reads, I'm going to know that I always have a back, if I get pressured or if I go through my reads and everybody's covered, Bryce is going to be there open. It's a weapon. It's a dangerous weapon to get a guy like that with the ball in his hands in the open field. That's sometimes a better choice than throwing it down the field."
Case Keenum is a good quarterback. If the offensive line does its job, he'll win his awards. If Bryce Beall and Tyron Carrier do their jobs, Keenum will win his awards because he'll get them the ball. And while Keenum might get all of the glory, it won't have been possible without everybody else.