There was a moment during last week’s UH/Oklahoma game when it was announced that quarterback Greg Ward Jr. had surpassed Jimmy Klingler for eighth all time for career passing yards as a UH quarterback. Ward, a senior, had just eclipsed 5,243 yards. The next name on the list was David Piland with 5,790 yards. And way up there, in first place, was one Case Keenum with 19,127 career passing yards as a Cougar.
It’s easy to think that’s because the Cougars were playing the spread offense and passing the football constantly. Or that a lot of those yards were the results of receivers catching short tosses and turning them into big gains. But then you remember that there were a lot of games where Keenum only played a half because UH had such a big lead. And then you look back, and you notice that Keenum did actually hit receivers on deep passes, and he hit them in stride.
Keenum, you might recall, went undrafted by the NFL. He was short. He supposedly had a weak arm. He played in the spread offense, and quarterbacks who play in the spread end up failing in the NFL. It’s like NFL observers never saw him play in college, or didn’t take seriously the games he played at the University of Houston. But he signed as a free agent with the Texans, where supposed QB guru Gary Kubiak stuck him on the practice squad. Then he spent some time on the Rams practice squad before bouncing back to Houston and taking over the starting job from Matt Schaub during that disastrous 2013 season.
When the Los Angeles Rams take the field on Monday night, the starting quarterback will be Case Keenum. It’s been quite the journey for Keenum, a journey that’s seen him stuck behind guys like Matt Schaub, T.J. Yates, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, Tom Savage and Nick Foles. This season he was supposed to back up Jared Goff, the golden boy out of Cal who the Rams drafted No. 1 back in April after trading a ton of picks to the Tennessee Titans. But as always, it was Keenum who stood out while Goff looked like a guy who would be on the practice squad if he weren't a No. 1 draft choice.
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Then again, Keenum was never supposed to be the star quarterback at UH. That was supposed to be Blake Joseph. And the Texans only played Keenum out of desperation even though he was perhaps the only Texan QB since David Carr who could actually hit Andre Johnson in stride on a deep pass. And last year, the Rams traded for Foles and gave him a huge contract, only to see him lose the job to Keenum. Foles, like Schaub, looked like an NFL quarterback. Just like Goff looks like an NFL quarterback. And yet these guys all keep losing their jobs to Keenum.
There’s a bias here on my part. I covered UH during Keenum’s years there. I dealt with the guy, and found him friendly and always cooperative. He’s one of those players who are easy to cheer for, and he’s one of those guys that you want to see succeed. And it always bugged me that he was written off and given no shot at NFL success while guys like Tim Tebow were being drafted in the first round even though it was obvious they’d never make it in the NFL.
So maybe instead of being shocked that Keenum has earned the starting job, it is time to re-evaluate the reputations of coaches like Kubiak and Bill O'Brien. Keenum left for the Rams before last season because O’Brien thought Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett and Tom Savage were better options, only to cast aside Hoyer and Mallett in order to sign Brock Osweiler to a huge contract. This was despite the fact that Osweiler had been such a failure with the Broncos that he was benched for Peyton Manning even though Manning could no longer throw the ball further than five yards. Then again, Osweiler looks like a NFL quarterback, just like Mallett looked like a NFL QB. Just think how much money the Texans would’ve saved if the team had just gone with Keenum instead of casting about time and time again for a guy who looks the part. And do you think that maybe Kubiak is kind of hoping he could go with Keenum right now instead of depending on Trevor Siemian?
So good luck to Case Keenum. The UH grad is once again proving his critics wrong, just like he’s been doing since his college days.