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Case Keenum Snubbed?

Did Case Keenum ever have a chance? Sudden naming of Ryan Fitzpatrick as QB starter raises alarming questions

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Ryan Fitzpatrick is the Houston Texans' new starting quarterback. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
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Ryan Fitzpatrick has been removed from the crowd of Houston Texans quarterbacks by Bill O'Brien. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
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Did Case Keenum ever really have a chance? Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMap Snap
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Bill O'Brien delivered his decision at 8 a.m. on the first morning of the Houston Texans' very first mandatory practice of the 2014 season. Before many of the Texans players could even rub the sleep from their eyes, the new coach informed them that Ryan Fitzpatrick is the team's starting quarterback.

So much for the open competition. So much for a training camp battle. So much for the idea that O'Brien would take a Pete Carroll open-eyed approach to the most important position on the football field.

Sure O'Brien and quarterbacks coach George Godsey have been working with the Texans quarterbacks for months. But the on-field "open competition" ends up consisting of a few days of voluntary mini camp and 10 OTA sessions. Is that enough? Especially when the choice is Fitzpatrick, a 31-year-old journeyman with a career 77.5 quarterback rating?

O'Brien certainly sounds sure of his choice.

"He's earned the job," O'Brien says in his post practice media briefing. ". . . He earned it with his preparation. He earned it with his accuracy. He earned it with his command of the line of scrimmage."

 Why rush the call in mid June? Why not give Keenum a chance to make a real case for the job? 

Maybe, O'Brien feeling certain and confident is all that will matter in the end. After all, the chances of the Texans doing anything this season largely depend on how creative O'Brien can be with an offense that desperately needs his kind of innovative makeover. It hinges on whether the coach can utilize Arian Foster as the kind of Marshall Faulk dual-threat superstar the tailback clearly can be, on whether he can push DeAndre Hopkins to a Pro Bowl level.

Still, it's fair to wonder if Case Keenum or rookie Tom Savage ever really had a chance. Particularly with Keenum having displayed the ability to create big plays down the field in just his first half season of NFL action, it comes across as something of a rush to judgment.

When asked about Keenum, Yates and Savage, O'Brien is pointed. (T.J. Yates, who the Texans quickly traded hours after the Fitzpatrick naming, clearly didn't impress two completely different coaching staffs.)

"With all three of those guys, I think we need a little more consistency," O'Brien says of the now backup QB contenders. "It doesn't have anything to do with work ethic."

Keenum's lived off work since he arrived on the University of Houston's campus as no one's golden boy quarterback. This is a guy who moved into an apartment complex right off Kirby so he could be closer to the Texans' complex — and particularly its film room — as soon as he signed as an undrafted free agent. He's not as sure of the reads — or as accurate — in O'Brien's offense as Fitzpatrick is at the moment. But with a little more time, there's a good chance he could be better.

Fitzpatrick is in the his 10th NFL season. What he is — and isn't — is pretty well proven. Keenum's potential and possibilities are much more wide open.

Why rush the call in mid June? Why not give Keenum a chance to make a real case for the job?

Sure, some national NFL commentators have been calling for O'Brien to pick his QB already. And locally, the Houston Chronicle essentially anointed Ryan Fitzpatrick the starter weeks ago.

But is Bill O'Brien on the media's schedule or his own?

O'Brien's QB Schedule

Does naming Ryan Fitzpatrick your starter on June 17 get you any closer to winning? It's a safe bet AWOL wide receiver Andre Johnson isn't doing flips on South Beach over the word that Fitzpatrick is the man.

There's an argument to be made for the idea that O'Brien is simply eliminating any potential for additional distractions and going to great lengths to make sure there's absolutely no quarterback controversy going into training camp. But that's a weak, coaching scared argument. If O'Brien is already letting something like that dictate his decisions, the Texans are in real trouble. And Bob McNair didn't hire the strong coach he thought he hired.

 Is Bill O'Brien on the media's schedule or his own? 

No, I don't buy that this is some timid, no-distractions play from O'Brien.

He clearly truly believes in Ryan Fitzpatrick. The faith just seems more than a little rushed. O'Brien notes that Fitzpatrick still needs to keep earning the starting job, day after day. But moments later, he says that Fitzpatrick will get a majority of the reps going forward.

How are the coaches going to gauge what Keenum or Savage could really do in the offense if it's already all about getting Fitzpatrick ready?

Seeing how any quarterback besides Fitzpatrick could grown into O'Brien's offense is going to be severely limited. This competition is closed. It seems so rushed, so forced, so unlike what you'd expect from a forward-thinking, open-minded coach.

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