ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — After signing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a long-term extension in February, the San Francisco 49ers weren’t in the market for a quarterback as the 2018 offseason began.
But Rich Scangarello, then the 49ers’ quarterbacks coach, still evaluated that year’s crop of free-agent quarterbacks — and that prescience could pay dividends now that Scangarello is the offensive coordinator in Denver.
Case Keenum, who signed with the Broncos in March after the Vikings let him test free agency, started all 16 games for Denver in 2018, and now he will be paired with an offensive coordinator in Scangarello who already has a feel for what he does well.
“I’m excited to work with Case,” Scangarello said Thursday at his introductory press conference. "... I did my due diligence on him. He really played outstanding in Minnesota. He was a big part of helping them get to where they got to [be in] that NFC Championship game. He’s gritty, he’s a winner, he’s competitive. You can see that on the film.”
Keenum, as Head Coach Vic Fangio said in early January, is the team’s quarterback “right now.” And that means — barring any changes — the Broncos will aim to get Keenum to play like he did in 2017, when he threw for 22 touchdowns, seven interceptions, 3,547 yards and completed 67.6 percent of his passes.
More importantly, Keenum went 11-3 as the starter of that team and led the Vikings to the brink of the Super Bowl.
With a system that Scangarello said is based off what he learned from 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, he’ll try to help Keenum find the success that several 49ers quarterbacks had in 2018.
That starts with being aggressive, Scangarello said — and that could sound familiar to Broncos fans, who heard the team’s last coaching staff challenge Keenum to take more chances down the field.
“I see an offense that’s willing to take shots,” said Scangarello of his ideal offense. “That’s aggressive, but is detailed in every way. That takes care of the football, that empowers its players to be the best that they can be. By putting them in a position to be successful. I think our offense empowers the quarterback to have success. And [we] can adapt to his skill set. As we build this as a group, as a staff, I’m looking forward to doing that. I think we can make that happen.”
Scangarello and Shanahan’s philosophy seemed to work in San Francisco last season. Despite several injuries, Scangarello helped keep his quarterback room afloat.
Undrafted rookie Nick Mullens, who started the final eight games of the season for the 49ers, threw for more than 2,000 yards and completed 64.2 percent of his passes under Scangarello’s guidance.
Now, Scangarello will be challenged with building a system that works to the strengths of Keenum — and whoever else ends up in the room.
“Each guy is a little unique, and you have to adapt to them,” Scangarello said. “I see traits that we can help Case be the best that he can be. That’s our job as an offense, the players around him, and to really empower him to play confident like he was in Minnesota.
“[We’ll] continue to keep that going, and no doubt, help him be the best that he can be.”