Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports
It is obvious at this point the the Houston Texans will need to take a QB at some point during the draft. A blind man can see that fact a mile away. However, there is no reason to take one with the number 1 overall pick. Regardless of who or when they get a QB, all positions need to have competition to determine the starting position, though, we all have our preferences.
I see many analysts saying that Case Keenum had his chance and he blew it. What they are missing are the cogs that make Keenum work. Having seen him play in college and pre-season NFL games, I know what the kid is capable of. I also know that he did best his first 3 times out because he was playing the game his way (though rusty from sitting on the sideline). It wasn’t until after the Kubiak/Dennison system was drilled into the kids head that he had a hard time getting the ball down field. They were slowly turning him into another Matt Schaub.
It’s hardly fair to say that Keenum was given a full on opportunity to show what he can do when you had key points of his offense falling apart before he ever set foot on the field. For years the Texans have been known as a ‘run first’ offensive team. This last year you had Foster taken out and Tate going in at 50%, at best. Follow that up with lackluster play in Deji Karim and only slightly better play from rookie, Dennis Johnson, who barely had a chance to stick his toe in the water much less get his feet wet, and you have very little left to work with regarding your primary assault scheme.
Play calling should have changed dramatically to adjust for a great many things in the 2013 season. Poor play by Schaub that force a change at the QB position should have been followed up with adjusting to the new play callers talents. It wasn’t. The fall of the running back staff should have forced adjustments in the overall offensive scheme. It didn’t.
When you have a laser accurate, mobile cannon behind your O-line and a solid receiving corps, you allow the possibilities to unfold. If the O-line was adjusted to handle better pass coverage, Keenum would surely have shined as he would have been in his element. Keenum is a passer, plain and simple. When you have a guy like Keenum step in, you must do more than a run first system with short hot routes, which is what they have done for years. Keenum putting air under the ball is what gained ground. Then, to see a coaching call for a stretch play on 3 and 1? That was an example of bad play calling that went on the entire 2013 season. You might not have needed to put the ball in the air but it would have made more sense, on the ground, to just hammer it across.
The previous system, or offensive coaching staff, was not using Keenum to benefit his strengths. Using the old Shanahan, West Coast system from the 80s/90s Broncos and you are dealing with a system that every defense in the league knows how to handle. Watch old Broncos plays from the late 80s and early 90s. The exact same plays, executed in the exact same way. Keenum learned that system well but it’s not helpful when a defense is so familiar with what you are doing that they can act with confidence and break down your scheme to the point on knowing what you are going to do before you even snap the ball. I can’t say the system, itself, is flawed but adjustments must be made to any system in order to evolve and stay viable.
Most times staying in the pocket is good but some times, you have to get out and stretch the play on the move, which is what Keenum is known for even during college. The zone blocking scheme used works well for a run first offense but when most of your ground attack is sitting in the “motor pool” with injuries, the coaching staff must have adapted to what they have available, they didn’t. They wanted to keep the same philosophies without the staff to oblige them.
Keenum will work well in a system that stretches the field to make way for the run game. O’Brien can make this work well. Kubiak/Dennison used Keenum in the wrong way. Drew Brees got caught up in a similar situation in San Diego. Once he got under Sean Peyton, who saw what he had, Bree turned into an elite QB. I see the same potential in Keenum. O’Brien has a scalable system in which Keenum could easily thrive.
Keenum has better college numbers than any of the 2014 draft prospects. College numbers do not always translate well to the NFL but if Keenum were in the same draft class with these guys, he would be a top prospect. Add his numbers to his team first mentality and well known work ethic and I would see no reason to expect that he would be considered number one overall draft prospect this year.
In closing, considering the college numbers, Keenum now has had the opportunity to experience the NFL and has an off season to reflect on that experience. No matter what happens in QB staffing, it would be in the teams best interest to give an opportunity to each player to prove their ability to work with the new offensive system that is about to be put in place. May the best man win, in the end.