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Paul Klee: Before throwing shade at 'No Fly Zone,' Case Keenum shows why Denver Broncos paid new quarterback big bucks

By: Paul Klee
May 22, 2018 Updated: May 23, 2018 at 9:48 am
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photo - Denver Broncos quarterback Case Keenum takes part in a drill during an NFL football minicamp session Tuesday, May 22, 2018, at the team's headquarters in Englewood, Colo.(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Denver Broncos quarterback Case Keenum takes part in a drill during an NFL football minicamp session Tuesday, May 22, 2018, at the team's headquarters in Englewood, Colo.(AP Photo/David Zalubowski) 

ENGLEWOOD — My first impression of Case Keenum’s first day of Broncos offense vs. Broncos defense was that he doesn’t look the part.

Sorry, he doesn't. He looks short. Maybe that’s because Keenum often stands next to 6-foot-7 Paxton Lynch or 6-8 Jared Veldheer, and all of us look short next to those two. Either way, there’s zero about Keenum’s physical stature that suggests he’s a $36-million professional athlete. If he were throwing dry flies in the South Platte you wouldn’t look twice. 

So why did John Elway commit the next era of Broncos football to a guy who looks like another guy?

Glad you asked: “I’m trying earn the right to lead these guys. That’s how I view the position and that’s how I view being a leader. I want my actions to speak louder than my words,” he said.

And here you go again, this time with a hot take on the “No Fly Zone:” “Is that their nickname? Is that what they’re called? That’s good to know.”

Keenum is unafraid to poke the bear. Oh, don’t be fooled by the new guy pleading ignorance on the “No Fly Zone.” Of course he knew its nickname. But Keenum also knows his teammates will read every word that he says this offseason, and he’s not about to kiss the ring. Savvy move, QB1, trying to infuse some swag into the Broncos' offense. It’s been a minute.

Anyway, three things jumped out in Tuesday’s workout, the first of three this week, which mostly had the feel of a getting-to-know-you session: 

1. Jared Veldheer, the projected starter at right tackle, is one of the biggest humans I’ve seen with my own two eyes. Like I was saying, he’s listed at 6-8, 321 pounds. Looks bigger. Can he play? Dunno, but at least Colorado has a new 14er.

2. The Gary Kubiak presence is a prominent one. Roaming a sideline, Ol’ Kubes locked himself into the OTA workout, chatting up a few staffers but mostly paying close attention to the action on the field. It wasn’t until later the big boss arrived. No, John Elway wasn't prepping his short game for the U.S. Senior Open qualifier at the Broadmoor on Monday. Elway had jury duty. See, they’re just like us!

3. The Broncos identified Keenum and paid him the big bucks due to his intangibles — all that stuff you can’t quantify with analytics but, sure enough, are evident in every last locker room leader in pro sports.

The annual disclaimer is truer this year: everything said in May must be taken with a shaker of salt. These Broncos are on the Prove It plan. Until they prove this time isn’t like last time, don’t believe what they say.

But it’s pretty easy to see what Elway and Kubiak liked about Case Keenum. Before he tried to level the playing field by throwing shade at the “No Fly Zone” — maybe the first time a Broncos quarterback has ventured into those depths since Peyton Manning spiked a football after a rushing touchdown in practice — Keenum commanded the huddle. He put a hand on the left shoulder of future second-teamer Chad Kelly to explain the details of a drill. He also showed a self-confidence with local media that the 30-year-old has said stems from his strong Christian faith.

Keenum didn’t sound like a guy intent on doing things his way. Rather, he wants to be coached. He didn’t take credit for the news he’d been named the 51st-best player in the NFL — ahead of AFC West quarterbacks Philip Rivers (No. 56), Derek Carr (No. 60) and Patrick Mahomes (NR). Rather, he made the award a team thing, which is kind of cheesy but something Manning used to do.

“I think everybody likes Case,” tailback Devontae Booker told me with a laugh, like “duh, dude.”

He also didn’t big time wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Good plan. Keep the wideouts happy for as long as possible.

“I learn from them as well,” Keenum said.

Hope he’s up for it, because this was always going to be a really tough job for the next quarterback here. The new guy wasn’t following Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. He was following 16 seasons of Elway, four seasons of Peyton Manning, a region with Facebook photos from a Super Bowl parade and the truth that more folks around these hills can identify the quarterback of the Broncos before they can identify the governor of Colorado.

“This is Case’s first time to really be the guy,” coach Vance Joseph said.

“It’s good for our football team,” said Joseph, who then allowed that the quarterback controversy of 2017 had worn on the first-year coach. “It’s good for our coaches.”

As far as Keenum on the field? He’s more slippery than I expected, dodging Derek Wolfe on one play to complete a sweet pass to Demaryius Thomas on the sideline. His mobility and field awareness are probably what stood out the most. It wasn’t his arm; Chad “Swag” Kelly’s arm is the biggest one here in at least five seasons. It wasn’t how Keenum looks in a layup line at the rec center; Lynch still looks the part, even if that’s the end of it. The Broncos signed Keenum because of this: “Being a quarterback doesn’t stop when I step off the field,” he said. They signed Keenum to help change the culture. It's something that a team in a rebuild would do. 

Twitter: @bypaulklee

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