Denver Broncos | News

Best Case scenario: The Broncos' new quarterback prepares for the next step in his career


Two quarters before Case Keenum would play an instrumental role in the Minneapolis Miracle — a play that secured a playoff win for Keenum's Vikings — he guided Minnesota to another touchdown.

This one came in the second quarter of January's Divisional Round playoff game between the Vikings and Saints, a game in which Keenum out-dueled future Hall of Famer Drew Brees.

After the Vikings took over at their own 42-yard line late in the first quarter, Keenum led his team on 12-play, 58-yard drive that chewed up nearly half the second quarter.

The possession ended when running back Latavius Murray fought his way into the end zone from a yard out, and that's when the real show began.

Just as Keenum and the Vikings had done for most of the season, they broke out an organized celebration.

This new trend of group celebrations — which began in 2017 after a rule change — wasn't heavily prevalent in Denver, where the Broncos struggled on offense throughout the year.

In Minnesota, though, Keenum and Co. had plenty of rehearsed material.

In October, Keenum and the Vikings played "Duck, Duck, Gray Duck" after a touchdown against the Bears. They sat down to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner against the Lions and played leapfrog against the Redskins.

But they may have saved the best for their last win of the season.

After Murray bolted into the end zone, he started a game of freeze tag, and it wasn't long before he'd tagged his quarterback.

There, in the end zone, Keenum stood.

Even after his teammates had started to run back to the sideline, Keenum pretended to remain frozen.

Up three scores, Vikings fans were jubilant in the stands. His teammates were celebrating as they ran off the field.

Yet Keenum remained still.

And all eyes were on a player who has always been an unlikely choice to star in this moment.


Take a look at Case Keenum's NFL and NCAA accomplishments and the statistics that define them.

That's an odd line to write about a man who left college football with a slew of records.

That he should've never been in position to out-duel a future Hall of Famer in a playoff game.

And yet, that doesn't make it any less true.

At the University of Houston, Keenum blew past a number of existing marks. During his career with the Cougars, he set the NCAA's career records for passing yards, total yards, completions and passing touchdowns. He also finished second in career pass attempts.

Those numbers didn't do much to move the needle on Keenum, though. He never finished higher than seventh in the Heisman voting, and he went undrafted after his redshirt senior season in 2011.

He caught on with Houston, where he would start eight games in 2012, but Keenum still wasn't viewed as a franchise quarterback.

When he moved on to the Rams, he appeared in just eight games in two seasons — and then was replaced in 2016 by the first-overall pick, Jared Goff.

As few as six months before the Minneapolis Miracle, it wasn't clear whether Keenum would even get a chance to start another game.

That changed quickly.

An injury in Minnesota in Week 1 gave Keenum the reins, and he responded with no less than 22 touchdowns, 3,547 yards, a 67.6 completion percentage and an 11-3 record as a starter.

"Nothing's ever been handed to me," Keenum said this June. "I think that I pride myself in that I've earned everything that I've gotten in this league. I wouldn't rather [have] it any other way. I fight my tail off every day. I work as hard as I can every day. I sleep good at night knowing I've done everything I can."

By the time the Vikings reached the playoffs in January, there was no thought to anyone but Keenum leading them toward Super Bowl LII.


Compare Keenum's situation to where the Broncos stood a year ago.

After their second consecutive quarterback competition in training camp, the Broncos' quarterback position devolved into a carousel that saw each of three players start at least two games.

There were other problems that cropped up during a 5-11 season, but both John Elway and Vance Joseph declared at the end of the season that they needed more from their quarterback. The pair vowed to find a solution to the problem, and they did so as the legal tampering period of free agency began in March.

After months of evaluation, Denver honed in on Keenum — and it didn't take long to make the move official. 

"Case is a great fit for us," Elway said in March. "He's coming off a tremendous season last year and has obviously been through a lot of situations throughout his entire career. Along with that experience, his leadership and competitiveness are what you look for in a quarterback.

"Case has fought and battled for everything that he's earned in the NFL, and it's exciting to add someone with that type of mentality to our team."

Keenum, though, in his first true opportunity as a Day 1 NFL starter, declared upon arrival he would work to earn the trust of his teammates.

His high-profile recruitment and starting label wouldn't stop the undrafted, journeyman quarterback from working to prove himself to the organization and the city.

"I think everybody's got something to prove every day," Keenum said in June. "You prove to yourself, you prove to your teammates, your coworkers, whoever it may be. I think every time you wake up in the morning, I think you're proving something to somebody."

At least through the completion of the offseason program, that process seems to be going quite well.

His teammates have praised his leadership style, his play on the field and the sense of direction that a starting quarterback can provide.

For the first time since 2015, the team will enter training camp without a question looming over the team's most-important position. That's a change that "energizes the whole team," wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said in May.

And Keenum has done far from the bare minimum.

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders praised Keenum in May for the way he's reached out to him and Thomas to spend extra time in the film room breaking down practice tape.

"I've been a part of two Super Bowl teams and that's what it takes," Sanders said. "That extra work that's not mandatory, where guys are in there working out or working on their mental game.

"That right there — when it's fourth quarter or when it's fourth-and-5 or third-and-8 — that's the stuff that gets you over the hill."


While there's plenty the offense must improve upon before the team's regular-season opener, Keenum admits on a June morning that he's allowed himself to think about a Sept. 9 date against Seattle.

It's media day with several broadcast partners, and Keenum has pulled his No. 4 jersey over his shoulder pads for the first time.

This is how he'll look in just a few short weeks.

"I've thought a lot about running on the field against Seattle for the first time," Keenum says. "I'm excited to do that. [Even] just being at the stadium. I've played there before, but even putting on my jersey for the first time, it's pretty cool. It's a cool feeling. I'm excited about it."

Make no mistake: Keenum understands the pressure and the expectations that will follow him when he leads the offense onto the field against the Seahawks.

The former undrafted quarterback who became a prized free agent will face a new reality. He won't be playing with house money, as he did at times in Minnesota as he reset everyone's expectations for his playing career. 

Instead, he'll carry his fair share of Denver's playoff hopes on his shoulders. And he's done more than just accept that burden.

He's embraced it.

"I expect myself to play well every time I step on the field," Keenum says. "That's just not a sometimes thing. I understand playing quarterback carries a big responsibility, and that's why I've played quarterback since I can remember. I love it. I love that part of playing quarterback. I love the ball in my hands. And I'm excited to see what this season has in store for us."

Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave offers a needed reminder that football is a team game, and that the players around Keenum must do their parts to play "complementary football."

But that doesn't mean Musgrave lacks faith in Keenum's ability to guide this team back to the playoffs. 

"I just think he can make all the throws," Musgrave says. "He has a great arm for the long ball. He keeps it inbounds. He can anticipate. And I really like the way he throws the quick game. His slants and fades and flats, he uses his wrist, so the ball is very catchable. I just think he's a very talented, physical passer."

That, combined with his demonstrated leadership and resilience, should illustrate why Musgrave and Elway and Joseph and Sanders and Thomas and the rest of the Broncos have such high expectations for their new quarterback.

Expectations that extend past September or October and into January — and perhaps even February.

That, perhaps, is when we could see the best of some new Keenum-led celebrations.

"We've got some stuff that may be in the works," Keenum says with a smile. "I think scoring a lot of touchdowns is the first key to that."

And with that, Keenum heads back to the quarterbacks' meeting room.

There is more film to watch and more work to do.

Nothing has been given to Keenum thus far — neither opportunities nor touchdowns.

He's learned how to earn both.

Related Content