September 08, 2016

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) Case Keenum realized it was only a slip of the tongue when a reporter asked him how he felt about getting his first NFL start on Monday night.

Keenum has actually started 15 games over the past three seasons for the Texans and Rams. He'll get his 16th when he opens the Rams' season behind center after easily holding off a training camp challenge - for now - from No. 1 draft pick Jared Goff.

But Keenum has grown accustomed to being overlooked, discounted and taken for granted during his NFL career. The most prolific passer in NCAA history went undrafted out of the University of Houston, and he has been waived twice and traded for a seventh-round pick.

Scouts and analysts rip his arm strength and patronizingly label him as a game manager, yet Keenum keeps finding ways to contribute in the pro game. And now he gets the honor of starting the Los Angeles Rams' first game of their homecoming season, becoming the answer to one more trivia question in a football life filled with interesting accomplishments.

Keenum will start the first season opener of his five-year NFL career when the Rams visit the San Francisco 49ers.

''This is the first time for it to be my show starting out, and not just taking over, like, `Oh crap, send out Case now,''' Keenum said. ''It's something I've been preparing for for a long time, so I'm excited. It's the first time putting on a jersey with `Los Angeles' on the front of it. I get to represent our city.''

Goff is the Rams' quarterback of the future, but he's not presently ready to take over an offense that has made few roster changes since it finished last in the NFL last season. That job falls to Keenum, who will attempt to establish a passing game with the NFL's least productive group of receivers last year - when he isn't fulfilling his primary job of handing off to running back Todd Gurley.

Keenum has starting experience, but not much of it was good. He went 0-8 as the Houston Texans' starter in 2013, and they waived him before he returned to win two games as a starter in 2014.

In his second stint in St. Louis last year, he watched Nick Foles' rapid rise and fall in the starting job. He moved into the top spot in mid-November when Foles, who became a close friend, was benched.

Keenum incurred a concussion while losing his starting debut for the Rams, but returned with three consecutive victories before a season-ending overtime loss in Santa Clara. That stretch of wins included a 14-for-17 performance with two touchdown passes and a 158.0 quarterback rating against Tampa Bay - the epitome of the game-managing passer performance that could be Keenum's aspiration each week.

''We knew Case. We saw what he can do,'' Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. ''We saw how he finished the year. We traded for Case. He's done a great job this offseason, in the preseason games, and he's ready to go.''

After the Rams drafted Goff and Foles demanded a trade, Keenum was the Rams' default starter. He never relinquished the job while assuming a leadership role along with his passing responsibilities, earning a team captaincy earlier this week.

''Every week, you're seeing more and more command of the offense, which is comforting,'' Fisher said. ''The position itself is hard to play, but he's going to give us a chance. Checking in and out of run stuff, changing protections, getting the ball down the field, making plays, extending plays with his legs.''

But Keenum admits that he still gets unreasonably hyped up before his every start. He doesn't expect it to be any different in a season opener, particularly when he's making a minor piece of history.

''If you look at any team, as the quarterback goes, the team goes,'' Keenum said. ''That's why I love playing quarterback. I love having the ball in my hands.''

---

Online:

AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and AP NFL coverage on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

You May Like