Broncos Case Keenum embraces pressure of regular-season debut

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Watching Case Keenum zip passes into the flat or air drop them to a receiver in front of the safety, it's hard to believe this remains unchartered territory. 

No Broncos player enters the season with more pressure than the new quarterback. To begin his new life successfully, Keenum, at age 30, must do something he's never done before: start and win a season opener.

"You want to play well at home," Keenum said to my question. "It's something, I guess, to add to the list (of things he has accomplished over the last year). I really, really want to win. But you have to balance that with not trying to do too much."

The odd statistic reflects his gypsy existence. Keenum bounced from the Houston Texans to the Los Angeles Rams to the Minnesota Vikings before cashing in with a two-year, $25-million deal with the Broncos. Only once has Keenum started an opener as he enters his eighth season. It is fair to say it fails to conjure positive vibes.

Starting for the Los Angeles Rams opposite of the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 12, 2016, Keenum completed 17 of 35 passes with no touchdowns, two interceptions and was sacked twice. Keenum finished the season 4-6 as a starter before first overall pick Jared Goff took over.

All quarterbacks in the Rams stable benefited from coach Jeff Fisher's exit. Keenum landed in Minnesota, starting Week 2 after Sam Bradford's injury, going 12-3 as the Vikings QB1. Nick Foles won Super Bowl MVP honors with Philadelphia and the Rams' Goff ascended to Pro Bowl status.

Keenum, whose new book "Play for More: Trust Beyond What You Can See," has exceeded expectations in his short time in Denver. He began his first regular-season week by being voted an offensive captain, and "it wasn't even close," coach Vance Joseph said. He provides leadership, work ethic and accountability.

"Come on. He's played in big games. He got to within one win of the Super Bowl last year," said Joseph, when asked if the moment was too big for Keenum. "I think he's going to be even better than we've seen."

Yet, the question lingers: Was last season the real Case Keenum or a mirage? His teammates believe, touting Keenum after watching a trio of quarterbacks throw 22 interceptions last season.

"We like him. He shows that he wants it. That's all you want. You want a guy that puts it on the line every day. He's hungry," veteran cornerback Chris Harris Jr. told Denver7. "He's getting comfortable. Playing preseason doesn't get you all the way there. Hopefully we can make it easier for him, starting really fast, and the running game helps with that. If we can run the ball like we did in the preseason, I think it will make it an easier transition for him."

History sits squarely on the Broncos' side. They have won six straight openers, the longest active streak in the NFL. They are 29-7-1 overall in home openers. Being in Denver provides confidence, allows for an offense to use all of its audibles, which becomes crucial on third down.

The Seahawks present a formidable opponent. Few NFC teams have been better over the last five years. However, Seattle is in transition. The Legion of Boom has been replaced by the Legion of Whom? Even with safety Earl Thomas reporting on Wednesday, the group features a new look. It's ripe for Keenum and the passing game to produce a healthy start.

"It's a big thing when you have one quarterback you can go with," veteran Demaryius Thomas said. "I think we will look to establish the run, but there's more to the passing game that you haven't seen."

Rocky mountain respect

Colorado holds a special place in Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson's heart. A day after his dad died, the Rockies drafted Wilson. They saw him as a future big league second baseman. Former minor league teammates like Corey Dickerson told me they believed Wilson would reach his goal.

"No one worked harder," Dickerson said.

In the end, football interrupted his journey. Wilson landed with the Seahawks -- the Broncos hosted him for a visit but drafted Brock Osweiler -- and he has been a star ever since. Wilson looks back fondly on his baseball experience.

"To be quite frank, Denver has a lot of meaning and sentimental value to me, honestly. I love that place. How the Rockies treated me when I was out there was tremendous," Wilson said. "I remember talking with Todd Helton, Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, and how they brought me into their locker room and embraced me. I am very grateful for what the Rockies did for me. It allowed for me to briefly take my mind off what happened. My dad was my best friend. I will never forget it."

Wilson, who is now a member of the Yankees organization, spent part of his minor league career hitting in the cages with Nolan Arenado. The third baseman's success doesn't surprise him.

"When I saw him work," Wilson said, "I knew he would be a star."

Footnotes

Thomas said he's preparing as if Seahawks safety Earl Thomas will play. "You have to," Thomas said. ... In talking about outside linebacker Von Miller, Wilson called him one "best ever, a gamechanger". He said Miller is like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. That he's going to make plays regardless of how you prepare. Miller's 83.5 sacks are the most in the NFL since he entered the league in 2011 ... In case you were wondering, Keenum would need to throw for at least 304 yards to break into the all-time passing yardage mark for a season opener.


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Want Broncos news? Denver7 Broncos insider Troy E. Renck is your source. He talks to the players, covers the games and reports scoops on Denver7 and the Denver7 app. He is a CU grad who has covered pro sports in Colorado since 1996, including 14 years at The Denver Post. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and TheDenverChannel.com’s Broncos page. Troy welcomes most of your emails at Troy.Renck@kmgh.com.

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