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With Case Keenum under center, teammate cautions against sleeping on Broncos

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Head Coach Vance Joseph knows the perception that surrounds quarterbacks that play safe football.

Inevitably, they get branded as game managers, which is just short of a dirty word in some NFL circles.

Joseph doesn’t see things the same way.

To him, avoiding the interceptions and fumbles that plagued the Broncos in 2017 is an important part of getting the team back on track.

And Case Keenum seems like he can be the man to do just that.

“As an NFL quarterback — as a starter — you have to be a game manager,” Joseph said. “When folks say, ‘Well, I don’t want a game manager,’ I say, ‘I do.’ I want a guy that’s going to take care of the football and manage the football game for us. [A reporter asked] earlier, ‘What’s your formula to win?’ We don’t know yet, but I know one thing: taking care of the football, that’s part of it. So that’s one of Case’s strengths: taking care of the football.”

Through eight practices, Keenum has thrown just two interceptions. One came in a team drill Friday, while the other came Sunday in a 7-on-7 drill.

That’s not to say he’s completed every pass. When plays have broken down, Keenum has soared passes out of bounds, into open space in the middle of the field or has decided to take a sack.

As he explained Sunday, those decisions are often premeditated.

“I’m trying to end every drive with a kick,” Keenum said. “Whether it’s a field goal, extra point or punt. I realize that sometimes the best play you can do is maybe throw it away. Sometimes at worst, you want to just take a sack. Just eat it and punt the ball and let our defense do what they do. We’ve got some great defensive players, great pass rushers. You give them the full length of the field to defend, and they do a great job. I know the priority. Obviously we’re trying to move the ball and score points, but we’ve got to protect the ball. Having the ball in my hands in every play, that’s my job.”

At times, though, can’t it be difficult to force yourself to throw the ball away when it appears you can still make a play?

Not, as Keenum said, if you treat each play as if it could change the course of the game. 

“I practice throwing it away at times when it’s not there and the rush is coming,” Keenum said. “You’re trying to treat every situation as if everything’s on the line and as if it’s a game.”

In fairness, Keenum has done far more than just manage the offense. He’s floated deep passes to Courtland Sutton, hit Emmanuel Sanders on crossing patterns and converted big third downs to Demaryius Thomas.

More so than a year ago, the offense and defense seem evenly matched on the practice field, and the new level of competitiveness hasn’t been lost on cornerback Chris Harris Jr. 

“Our offense is way better than they were last year,” Harris said. “With Case under center, he’s throwing great balls, he’s had great accuracy all of camp. He’s improved from OTAs.

“I feel like Case and them are clicking right now, and I expect them to put up points. I don’t see anybody just shutting them down like that with our receivers that we got. Our O-line is way better. I see them putting up points. At least 30 a game.”

Thirty points a game? That would be a far cry from the 18.1 per game the Broncos scored in 2017.

That would also be the most points per game for the Broncos since the 2014 regular season, when former quarterback Peyton Manning threw 39 touchdowns.

Even if the Broncos don’t quite get to that level, that doesn’t seem like an offense that’s set purely on avoiding mistakes.

It certainly doesn’t sound like an offense led by a game manager, does it?

Not to Harris.

“People underestimate how Case can move in the pocket,” Harris said. “He has great mobility in the pocket. He finds the open hole. He can make all the throws. Man, I’m excited to have him as our quarterback this year from what he’s shown us in training camp.

“I think everybody is excited. We love being the underdog. Everybody’s sleeping on us. I wouldn’t sleep on us too much no more. Not with our quarterback.”

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