Late Thursday night, standing in a small room below the stadium in Cleveland, Redskins quarterback Case Keenum scoffed.
It’s easy to suggest that little has been fair for Keenum since Denver traded him to Washington in March. After all, he nearly took the Minnesota Vikings to the Super Bowl in 2017, and he signed the following offseason to be the Broncos’ starting quarterback. Then, just weeks after the Redskins acquired him, they drafted the player who is almost certain to be the franchise’s quarterback of the future, leaving Keenum to fight for the right to be what amounts to a placeholder starter until Dwayne Haskins is ready.
Given his first chance to prove the job should be his, in Washington’s preseason opener Thursday against the Browns, Keenum started the game with second- and third-team players. They faced a defense that featured most of the Browns’ starters, including star pass rusher Myles Garrett.
Yet asked about the unfairness of it all, after he was left exposed as the Cleveland pass rush rolled in, Keenum just shook his head. Unfair? He has been fighting for an NFL job for eight years. Nothing seems unfair anymore.
“It’s not tough,” the 31-year-old said. “I’ve been in this long enough for me to know we’re going to play with different combinations of offensive line guys all year long. So you get 11 guys out there, and everyone is being coached up and is here for a reason. You take that and continue to do your job and get first downs and score touchdowns.”
Keenum’s NFL career has included more than his fair share of unfair. He left the University of Houston as the NCAA’s all-time leader in total offense and touchdown passes, among other records. But he went undrafted in 2012 and had to scramble for a spot on the Houston Texans’ roster, then bounced among the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams, Texans, Vikings and Broncos over the next six years. He started at least two games every year from 2013 to 2018, helped Minnesota to the NFC title game in 2017 and went 6-10 as the starter for Denver last year. But each season brought some kind of scramble, and nothing seemed easy.
Given Colt McCoy’s injury issues and Haskins’s inexperience, Keenum has seemed more and more like the logical choice to begin the season as the Redskins’ starting quarterback. But Coach Jay Gruden has yet to declare him the leader in the competition.
“I don’t want to come to any conclusions right now,” Gruden said. “It’s silly to. There’s still a lot of ball left to be played, lot of passes, lot of things, lot of situational work we still have to do … [and] three [preseason] games left. There’s more work to be had.”
Keenum played three possessions of Thursday’s 30-10 loss. While facing an aggressive pass rush, he completed 4 of 9 passes for 60 yards. His most impressive plays were a 10-yard scramble for a first down, a third-and-nine pass to Robert Davis that turned into a 43-yard pass interference penalty and a 46-yard touchdown toss to Davis three plays later.
“I was impressed,” Gruden said.
Keenum completed 4 of 9 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown in three series Thursday night. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
Gruden hasn’t revealed how he will use his quarterbacks in Thursday’s preseason game against visiting Cincinnati. McCoy, who missed the Cleveland game after limping off the practice field earlier in the week, practiced Saturday and is likely to play. If that’s the case, Keenum again might not get more than a couple of series.
He hasn’t complained about his circumstances; any questions about the quarterback battle have drawn quiet nods. After all of the other QB competitions in Keenum’s past, this is just another fight.
“I’ve competed in this league for a long time,” he said earlier in training camp. “I’ve had to share reps everywhere I go. Do I want them all? Yeah, I want to take all the reps. I know I have to stand behind [the others in practice] and I’ve got to pretend that I’m in the rep. I’ve been at places where I was competing for the backup [role] and I traded days. I had a day off, and then I got the backup reps the next day, and I didn’t like that at all.
“So the fact that every day we are getting out there and competing and getting reps — not just mental reps where I’m watching but actually in it, too — it’s been good.”
Right now, it’s the best chance he’s going to get.