Case Keenum and his wife Kimberly
Kimberly Keenum might end up being the surprise supporting actress star of HBO’s Hard Knocks if she’s not careful. The wife of Case Keenum — the University of Houston icon and still, the Rams’ starting quarterback (sorry Goff Heads) — is getting significant screen time on one of the cable powerhouse’s premier franchises.
But there’s still no way Kimberley Keenum will be able to outshine her husband’s competition. No, HBO’s Chosen One has been clear from the opening seconds of Hard Knocks‘ first episode. From the first shot till the last, it is Jared Goff’s show. The HBO cameras are breathlessly building up the No. 1 pick from Cal as a Hollywood star in the making.
It’s almost as if the producers set down a decree that there must be at least one montage where someone marvels over Goff’s arm strength in every episode of Hard Knocks this season. Golly gee, that boy can sling it, huh coach?
We kid — because everyone else kids the rookie quarterback, too. That’s one of the funniest things about this Hard Knocks season — how Case Keenum is essentially trolling (in a nice way) his young gun competition on everything from where the sun shines to Taylor Swift. Well, one of the funniest things besides the NFL player who steadfastly and vocally refuses to believe that dinosaurs ever existed.
What undoubtably isn’t a hoax is the enormity of the challenge put in front of Keenum.
Case Keenum is still the Rams’ unquestioned starting quarterback (just as someone predicted last April), despite the braying media doubters (many of whom still reside in Houston). Rams coach Jeff Fisher made that clear again on Thursday. Keenum will start this season of California-sized expectations as the man of the moment.
“Case is clearly ahead,” Fisher says.
But no words or reassurances can stem the truth. Keenum faces win-now pressure to such a crazy degree that it can be legitimately argued that no other quarterback in the NFL must stare down quite this large a burden. Everyone’s dying for Goff to be a star. Heck, HBO already put him up on billboards and billowing flags in their Hard Knocks opening credits sequence. (Keenum’s not even shown in the opening.)
The myth-making around a No. 1 overall pick in the draft is always going to be super-sized. Especially if it’s a quarterback. But HBO is raising it to a whole new level.
Keenum’s essentially fighting against the hyperbole of the same show that’s turning him and his wife into human interest stories. Sure, Hard Knocks shows Case and Kimberly snuggling on the beach. Sure, it features a funny scene of Kimberly watching Keenum lead the Rams on a touchdown drive in their first preseason game, a scene that illustrates why she’s one of the NFL’s more grounded and down-to-earth wives. (Even if her new haircut is L.A.-worthy.) Still, this show also adds considerably to the chorus that will be calling for Goff to replace Keenum as the Rams starter sooner rather than later this season.
It turns out Hard Knocks isn’t just a double-edge sword for the NFL’s band of needlessly paranoid coaches.
How does Keenum respond? The same way he always responds, By looking off the doubters and piling up completions. He went six for seven in the Rams’ preseason opener vs. the Dallas Cowboys — and it would have been 7 for 7 if not for a drop by the premium cable talkative Tavon Austin, Keenum’s best receiving target.
That’s another thing about Keenum’s quiet rise from the dismissed to NFL starter: He’s doing it with the worst group of receivers in professional football. No matter. Keenum keeps making plays. Just like he did when Bill O’Brien gave him a brief chance with the Houston Texans. Just like he did while shattering the NCAA’s all-time passing records at the University of Houston. Heck, just like he did at Wylie High School in little Abilene, Texas.
This is the first time that Keenum’s been treated like a starter in an NFL preseason. He only expected to have to play about 15 snaps against the Kansas City Chiefs Saturday night before retreating to the bench and putting on a Rams hat. This is a luxury only afforded to players who’ve shown something. And the 28-year-old, who is heading into his fifth NFL season, clearly has. For the first time, Keenum isn’t fighting in the preseason to prove he deserves a roster spot.
Instead, he’s proven he is the only sane choice for the Rams starting QB job. Keenum boasts a gaudy 133 Quarterback Rating and has completed 83 percent of his passes through two preseason games. Goff limps to the table with a 69.5 Quarterback Rating and a 57 percent completion rate.
“It’s definitely different,” Keenum tells the Los Angeles Times of his new reality.
Still, the Jared Goff myth-making looms large — and it will forever be over Keenum’s shoulder for as long as he is in Los Angeles. It’s not easy fighting an industry built on turning No. 1 picks into stars, Hollywood’s thirst for the next big thing, and Hard Knocks.
But Case Keenum’s never taken the easy way.