All of that experience — positive and negative — was valuable for Keenum as he competed for the No. 1 job with the banged up Colt McCoy and first-round pick Dwayne Haskins. Coach Jay Gruden ended the competition Sunday, announcing Keenum as the Week 1 starter against the Philadelphia Eagles.
“I’m excited, I really am,” Keenum said. “I don’t take it lightly. The opportunity, the position I’m in … I’ve been there before, and I know it’s a tough job and there’s only 32 of them. I’m very honored. … I’m excited to continue to earn the right to be the leader for this team, to be the quarterback of this team.
“I always draw on past experiences. That’s what makes us who we are. We learn from those things. I’ve learned from what I’ve done well in the past, and I learned a lot more from what I’ve not done well. That goes with everything. … How you prepare. How you practice. How you treat people. How you come into the building after a bad day. … Every little thing I do has been something I’ve done in the past and learned from, whether it was me or somebody else.”
The news shouldn’t come as a shock. McCoy hasn’t practiced in nearly two weeks as he continues to heal from the broken leg that ended his 2018 season. Gruden has acknowledged they rushed him back too soon and he may not be available for a couple of weeks into the season. Haskins has shown flashes of brilliance, but he is still a rookie who makes rookie mistakes and is still getting a full grasp of the NFL.
Keenum seemed the safest choice for a team built to win by running the ball, playing great defense and minimizing turnovers. That was the Alex Smith recipe that led the Redskins to a 6-3 start last year. In three preseason games, Keenum has completed 16 of 30 passes for 213 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
Gruden said this is not a look-over-your-shoulder situation. Keenum is considered the starter for the season with one obvious caveat — he must get results.
“You’ve got to produce, without a doubt,” Gruden said. “We anticipate Case producing. He produces, he’s got nothing to worry about. Moving forward we intend on Case being the guy.
“Case has come in here and picked up the offense extremely well, had great confidence and command over the team — they both have. At the end of the day, I think we have great confidence that Case can lead us to a win against Philadelphia.”
Keenum will make his Redskins season debut at the site of one of his biggest letdowns. The Eagles torched the Minnesota Vikings, 38-7, in the NFC championship game following the 2017 season. Keenum, who took over Minnesota’s starting job in the second game after Sam Bradford was injured, could barely describe the experience, and it clearly still haunts him. The Eagles went on to win the Super Bowl. Sept. 8 will be the first time Keenum has faced them since.
“I remember the feeling I had walking off that field,” Keenum said. “I don’t know if I can put it into words. I’ve used it, and I plan on continuing to use it. It’s not a good feeling to get that close to what you dream of, what everybody dreams of and to not be able to get to that next step when it’s one step away. It was tough. It was tough, but I’m definitely motivated.”
There wasn’t much reaction to the news from teammates in the locker room. Receivers and running backs were comfortable with both him and Haskins and the biggest change in the next few weeks will be how the reps are handled. Keenum will get the first team work, but Gruden wouldn’t detail how the fourth preseason game will be divided. Haskins and Jalan McClendon probably will get the most work.
There is a feeling that Keenum’s experience — both the good and the bad — is a positive. He understands the pressure that comes with the job and has won a playoff game — something the Redskins haven’t done since after the 2005 season.
“He’s really just been consistent,” running back Chris Thompson said. “He’s been getting better every day, getting a better understanding of our offense and the guys he has around him. It’s well deserved. Honestly, I feel like it doesn’t make much of a difference [having an official Week 1 starter]. It’s more for everybody on the outside … not having to wonder anymore what’s going to happen Week 1. For us, we’ve been working with both guys, and I’m going to continue to work with both him and Dwayne. It doesn’t really change much.”