Case Keenum is not coming back to the Houston Texans as an afterthought. The former University of Houston record breaker figures to start his return game Sunday.
That's what it sure sounded like in Texans coach Bill O'Brien's just completed Monday press conference. The coach clearly seems to be leaning toward going with Keenum over Thad Lewis.
While saying he would wait till officially name the starter for Baltimore until a little later in the week, O'Brien appears to have tipped his hand. The coach noted how impossible it is for Lewis to have learned the Texans' entire complex offense in the few weeks he's been with the team and how Keenum has an advantage from having been with the team through the entire offseason and training camp.
"I think there's definitely an advantage to him having been with us," O'Brien says of Keenum. "He was with us a good amount of time. He was with us when we installed the offense."
"He's a very bright guy. He has a good recall. We had a very good conversation on the phone last night."
With Ryan Fitzpatrick having surgery on his broken leg on Monday and rookie quarterback Tom Savage also out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, the Texans are turning back to the quarterback O'Brien cut after trading for Ryan Mallett. O'Brien called Keenum on Sunday night to broach the idea of signing the quarterback off the St. Louis Rams practice squad where Keenum has spent most of this season.
Keenum clearly impressed O'Brien during that call.
"He's a very bright guy," O'Brien says. "He has a good recall. We had a very good conversation on the phone last night."
In truth, if Case Keenum stood 6-foot-4 instead of 6-feet, he likely never would have been jettisoned by O'Brien. This is a quarterback who flashed plenty of potential in his first limited half year run as an NFL starter — even as the entire Texans team fell apart around him (just look at Keenum's first start numbers compared to Johnny Manziel's — and many other quarterbacks).
It's much too early to wonder if O'Brien's mind could be changed if Keenum plays well in a limited two-game window. Even if Keenum helps the Texans (7-7) achieve the unlikely winning record that O'Brien clearly desperately wants in his first year as an NFL coach, it's still highly unlikely Keenum will get the chance to be anything but a stopgap emergency starter in Houston.
The promise-filled Tom Savage — who flashed his intriguing deep ball touch before getting hurt in Indianapolis — is still the quarterback of the future prospect.
But that's a debate for another day. The chance to start again — particularly if he finally gets to play with Arian Foster (at this point in the season Foster appears to be a game time decision every Sunday) — for even a brief window represents a priceless opportunity for a quarterback who is always fighting preconceived NFL notions). Andre Johnson — who actually does get thrown the ball in the end zone by Keenum — will be back for the Ravens game after missing the game in Indianapolis with lingering concussion symptoms.
Keenum is already back at NRG Stadium, having flown in early Monday to start working with O'Brien and quarterbacks coach George Godsey again as soon as possible. In six days, he could be facing the new team of Gary Kubiak, the coach who both gave him his first NFL chance and kept yanking him in and out of the lineup for a done Matt Schaub. Keenum's loud critics — which include seemingly personally offended media voices like 610 AM's Nick Wright — love to point to the college superstar's 0-8 record as an NFL starter last season. As if anyone was winning with that depleted, dispirited mess of a 2-14 team.
These O'Brien Texans are a very different bunch coming down the end of the season. Now Keenum is looking like O'Brien's fourth starting quarterback of a crazy season, one which makes Houston's 7-7 record awfully impressive.
Will Keenum be ready? His history screams yes.
"He has a good mind," O'Brien says of Keenum.
Now, he also has a second chance.