Culture / Newsy

Case Keenum Crushes the Doubters, Grabs a Starring Role in Los Angeles

His First $3 Million Paycheck Is Just the Start

BY // 04.03.16

Case Keenum spent some time in Houston recently, dropping in on University of Houston coach Tom Hermann to give his alma mater some love, working out to get ready for OTAs. Call it the calm before the L.A. storm.

For this Texas return may be the last time that Keenum gets to chill out.

Soon, the former University of Houston star and two-time Houston Texan will be at the center of the biggest sports story in Los Angeles — and one of the biggest in NFL history. Through dogged determination, skill and a few Texans’ blunders, Keenum has emerged as the clear No. 1 quarterback of the first professional football team in Los Angeles in 21 years.

The guy who Bill O’Brien decided wasn’t worthy of leading the Texans long term will be leading one of NFL’s most high-profile teams in several generations. For Keenum, this means a starring turn on HBO’s vaunted Hard Knocks reality show. And more importantly, a real chance to establish himself as a long-term starting quarterback.

The Rams are already showing the kind of belief in Keenum that the hometown Texans never would. Despite some predictable and misguided media attempts to pressure the team into acquiring a splashier, more seemingly L.A.-character quarterback, the organization is sticking behind Keenum.

“Case is going to come back as the starter,” Jeff Fisher says. “”I have confidence in Case. Case is an incomplete pass and a field goal away from potentially being 5-0 as a starter. He’s managing things well. He worked really well with [offensive coordinator] Rob [Boras] and (quarterbacks coach Chris) Weinke, and I feel good about his development.

“I think he’s got a chance to be a really good quarterback.”

Rams general manager Les Snead reinforced the organization’s commitment to Keenum in an NFL Network interview. For the first time since he left UH as the NCAA’s career passing yardage leader, Keenum is being treated like a No. 1 quarterback. That makes a huge difference in terms of preparation time (a lack of reps is really what kills backup quarterbacks) and in the ability to play without the worry of having to always look over his shoulder.

When a quarterback’s secure, he truly has a chance to succeed.

There is something intoxicating about the idea of Keenum, a straight-laced, very vocal Christian athlete, serving as the quarterback of Los Angeles’ NFL team. This small-town Texas guy is in no danger of ever being called a glitzy guy. But the Rams are sure to be a movie star draw — and the tabloids will never be far behind.

Case Keenum, Celebrity Quarterback? OK, it seems to go against everything he plays for — but there’s no denying it. The quarterback of the team that brings pro football back to Los Angeles will be in the spotlight. It’s like Keenum’s last season at the University of Houston, when even his small garage apartment became TV famous. Only times a thousand.

Once he replaced floundering fellow Texas-bred quarterback Nick Foles last season, Keenum ran an offense designed to limit risks and let the Rams defense and running back sensation Todd Gurley do a lot of the work. Keenum threw one interception in his last four starts. One. But he also flashed the big-play ability that made him such a college star. He completed 14 of 17 passes in a dominant Thursday Night Football national showcase game. Overall, he completed more than 60 percent of his passes in three of those four starts — and came in at 59.5 percent in the game he didn’t break 60.

One by one, the criticisms hurled at Keenum by the Houston media doubters are being ripped apart and proven to be false. Keenum’s arm is plenty strong enough (see his deep bomb to Kenny Britt last season) for the NFL. Keenum’s more than capable of completing a high percentage of his passes. And his size (he’s a quarterback short 6-foot-1) does not hold him back.

It didn’t take long for Keenum to gain the respect of his peers in the Texans’ locker room. Fellow players recognized the talent. The media and coaching staffs took longer.

Keenum fought and clawed to get to this point. He’s 28 and about to enter his fifth NFL season — not close to old for a QB, but not young for professional sports, either. Many thought he’d be out of the league by now. Instead, he’ll make more than $3.6 million this season, his first real season earning big money. That is more than six times what Keenum banked last season, when his future stood on the brink.

In a way, Keenum’s finally made it. Don’t expect him to be content, though. Through all the criticism, he repeated the mantra, “I don’t want to prove people wrong. I want to prove the people who’ve believed in me right.” He does not traffic in I-told-you-sos.

The Los Angeles microscope awaits. In many ways, the real work begins now. Keenum’s made his own chance — the most unlikely L.A. quarterback ever has never had a stage like this before. Now, the young man just needs to prove he’s one of the Top 15 quarterbacks in football.

Go ahead and bet against him.

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