CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Jeff Heuerman lacks stats, but not confidence or candor.
After a battery of powerful golf swings, Heuerman took at a question that hung over the Broncos last season. Four months removed from the 5-11 debacle, which included eight straight losses, how much did the dizzying quarterback carousel impact the offense?
"It was definitely very challenging. I guess it would be kind of like playing golf without knowing any of the yardages, and kind of guessing," said the Broncos tight end, who has 18 receptions and two touchdowns entering his fourth season. "You were talking about playing with three different quarterbacks and going week-to-week last year. It's kind of tough sometimes getting into rhythm."
For those keeping score at home, the Broncos started Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch, going through the lineup twice. Only Siemian won a game, going 5-5, though Osweiler deserves credit for the relief effort in Denver's lone road victory at Indianapolis.
The Broncos realized after back-to-back playoff absences that the quarterback drama needed an expiration date. With apologies to Katy, Luke and Lionel, no more "American Idol" competition in training camp. It became a distraction. And, as players become more blunt with their words this offseason, they admitted it undermined leadership from the position. It is hard to lift teammates when you are not playing well, and, worse, don't know if you will be playing at all.
"Thank God," receiver Emmanuel Sanders said last week about no more indecision at the most important position.
When Keenum signed for a guaranteed $25 million, he knew the landscape. The Broncos wanted a rudder, a strong personality and a quarterback capable of taking chances and taking care of the ball. Keenum promised to lead organically. You don't give yourself a nickname or place a C on your chest in sports. It is earned.
Keenum has ingratiated himself with teammates through his work ethic, off-field gatherings (at Coors Field for a Rockies game) and rounds of golf.
"You can learn a lot about a guy (when shooting 18 holes)," said kicker Brandon McManus, who has played with Keenum. "You learn about his family, how he met his wife, what he likes to do."
Keenum, at his core, is a competitor. Peyton Manning endorsed him last month, in part, because of the trait. Keenum's past failures also make the Broncos believe in future success. His skin matches an elephant's for thickness. He has lived as an afterthought, a backup, a failed starter and a miracle worker. The latter transpired in Minnesota last season. Despite never gaining the full confidence of coach Mike Zimmer, Keenum posted a 12-4 record, counting the playoffs. Only Drew Brees proved more accurate than Keenum's 67.6 completion percentage.
Keenum leaned on a successful running game to riddle teams inside the 20. The Vikings completed 19 red zone touchdown passes. Compare that to the Broncos, who finished with 12. Broncos quarterbacks were sacked 12 times in the red zone, worst in the NFL. The Vikings? Try three. It speaks to better line play, of course, but also explains Keenum's athleticism.
He can make plays with his feet. But as Heuerman admitted, the significant improvement with Keenum is not mobility, but stability.
"The biggest thing is just the veteran quarterback presence," Heuerman said. "We haven't really had a whole lot of that the past couple of years. Just having that presence, and how he leads and manages things, is huge."