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Case Keenum Pushes for New Job

Case Keenum rediscovers his command: UH star to challenge T.J. Yates for backup QB job

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Case Keenum Texans Vikings
Case Keenum is showing more command of the huddle in mini camp than he ever could as a rookie. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSNAP.com
Case Keenum bike Texans
Case Keenum no longer feels like he's running in place. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CultureMapSNAP.com
Matt Schaub's foundation dinner April 2013 Kimberly Keenum, Case Keenum
When Case Keenum and his wife Kimberly are out and about they still hear from plenty of University of Houston fans. Photo by Russ Ross
T.J. Yates pregame
Case Keenum is at the point where he can think of challenging T.J. Yates for the Texans backup quarterback job. Courtesy of Houston Texans
Case Keenum Texans smiling
Things are looking up for Case Keenum with the Texans now. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CultureMapSNAP.com
Case Keenum Texans Vikings
Case Keenum bike Texans
Matt Schaub's foundation dinner April 2013 Kimberly Keenum, Case Keenum
Case Keenum pass
T.J. Yates pregame
Case Keenum Texans smiling
News_Chris Baldwin_managing editor_arms crossed

One of the first things that jumps out is the voice. Case Keenum's booming voice is back. It fills up the indoor practice bubble in the first session of the Houston Texans' rookie mini camp, leaving little doubt who's huddle this is.

The former University of Houston legend is back in command, doing what he does best, grabbing the shot much of the NFL was reluctant to give him. He flings on-the-money out passes to the sideline with seemingly little effort. He hits rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins deep. He even overthrows Hopkins a few times (so much for that "weak" arm). He gets the offense in and out of the huddle quickly, his barked out play calls impossible to miss.

Call it the evolution of a pro quarterback. Yes, a pro quarterback.

The doubts that Case Keenum — who treated all-time NCAA passing records like mere speed bumps at UH — can play at the NFL level have been more than a little ridiculous from the beginning. Art Briles, Kevin Sumlin and now Gary Kubiak have all shown belief in this once unheralded prospect from West Texas. Those are three coaches who've proven they know a little something about the quarterback position.

It's no longer crazy to think that Keenum could emerge as Schaub's backup coming out of training camp.

It might be time for others to grudgingly acknowledge Keenum's ability, his progress. That's clearly emerged as one of the stories of this five-practice, three-day weekend camp. Whether the doubters want to believe it or not.

"It feels completely different coming in here now than it did a year ago," is how Keenum puts it to CultureMap in a one-on-one interview. "My confidence, my knowledge . . . they're both much higher.

"Everything feels much more natural than it did last year."

So much so that T.J. Yates might have reason to worry. It's no longer crazy to think that Case Keenum could emerge as Matt Schaub's backup coming out of training camp. Oh, the UH man still isn't a favorite to supplant Yates for that job. Then again, Keenum's never been the favorite for any of the quarterback roles he's won in the past either.

"I think Case is fixing to be extremely competitive with T.J. and Matt," Texans coach Gary Kubiak says.

Keenum himself isn't about to come out and say he's gunning for this job or that job. He has too much quarterback respect for that. "Sure, I've set goals for myself," is the most he'll allow.

But there's no mistaking the leap forward he's already made. Keenum will get much more of a chance to show what he can do in this year's preseason than he did last summer as an undrafted free agent. Kubiak says he plans to play No. 7 a good amount.

Case Open

For now, Keenum is taking advantage of having Kubiak's nearly undivided attention at a camp where he and Collin Klein — the rookie from Kansas State who might be turned into a tight end yet — are the only quarterbacks. He knows he must make the most of getting to throw to a target as talented as Hopkins.

"He reminds of another guy I played with who you'd never have heard of with his hands," Keenum says of Hopkins. "He has incredible hands. He's explosive. He's everything you look for in a wide receiver.

"I think I'm going to keep throwing to him."

Keenum flashes a smile. There's some deadpan humor lurking in this underdog.

 Keenum may be heard from a lot sooner in his NFL career than many expect. Kubiak's definitely noticed the voice as well. 

This 25-year-old (he's actually a year older than Yates) is used to being The Man. Keenum may have settled into a life as a practice squad player last year, getting an apartment right on Kirby so he could be ultra close to Reliant Stadium. The better to study and study some more. But that doesn't mean he's embraced that role as the extent of his future.

When Keenum and his wife Kimberly are out and about in Houston, they still get stopped by Coogs fans who want to talk about one of Keenum's big games. Or the current state of the program. Case Keenum is not that far removed from his glory days.

"There are a lot of Cougars out there," Keenum says. "And U of H is only going to get better and better. It's great to hear from them."

Keenum may be heard from a lot sooner in his NFL career than many expect. Kubiak's definitely noticed the voice as well.

"His confidence," the coach says when asked about the difference in the quarterback. "Just walking out here, he knows everything he’s doing. He doesn’t have to work real hard at it from a standpoint of getting ready for practice.

"His ability is starting to take over. He does some things moving around and stuff that are natural for him."

Case Keenum is still facing an uphill climb. But he's a pro quarterback on the come. Doubt him at your own risk now.

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