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CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

'System quarterback' Keenum ready to take on critics and the NFL

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Keenum often changed plays at the line of scrimmage while at UH, and passed for 19,217 yards. (Getty Images)  
Keenum often changed plays at the line of scrimmage while at UH, and passed for 19,217 yards. (Getty Images)  

INDIANAPOLIS -- Would you think that I would be partial to an undersized quarterback who seems to have a giant chip on his shoulder?

Of course I like the former Houston quarterback Case Keenum.

Not just as a player, but also for the way he views himself and how he looks at the critics, those who say he's a system quarterback. Those who say he's too small for the NFL at just over 6 feet tall. And those who question his arm strength, even though he did struggle some throwing at the combine Sunday.

The attitude he gives off is that you can all stick it, and, damn, if he isn't going to prove you wrong.

When he met the media here at the scouting combine, he came ready to spar, almost as if he had played out the scenario in his head.

Question him? You'll get it right back.

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Some might see that as a negative. I love it. And I would love it if I were the team that drafts him.

"I've talked about it that way as a chip on the shoulder," he said. "But really, I don't play that way. I try to play to prove people right, not prove them wrong. I had one scholarship offer. That was Houston. I proved to everyone else that Houston was right. There were 119 teams in college that missed out. There will be 31 teams (that miss out) on the next step."

Call it arrogance. Call it confidence. That's what I would want to hear from any player -- quarterback or not.

It's just funny hearing it here. Most players come to the combine to meet the media prepped and polished, rarely saying anything that might be seen as a potential black mark on their football résumé. Keenum didn't set out to sound confident bordering on cocky, but when you are told for so long that you can't do something, it makes you want to prove them all wrong.

The system quarterback talk seemed to really burn him. At Houston, playing in a spread, up-tempo passing offense, Keenum set NCAA career records for passing yards, touchdowns and completions. Houston went 13-1 last season, beating Penn State in the Ticketcity Bowl.

Houston does use a quarterback-friendly system, but it makes scouts wonder if a player from it can translate to the next level. Why not? Keenum changed half the plays at the line of scrimmage, he said. Doesn't that mean something?

"He's a smart kid and he knows how to get to the right guy," one NFC scout said. "But there is stigma for guys who play in those offenses. Look at the run-and-shoot guys over the years. That makes teams do more work in evaluating them."

Hey, Baylor's Robert Griffin plays in a similar style offense and he's considered a top-five pick. In fact, Baylor coach Art Briles came from Houston and his offense at Baylor is similar to what is used by the Cougars.

"I don't think I've heard Robert Griffin called a system quarterback at all," Keenum said. "I'm not worried about it. I'm looking forward to learning a new system. It is what it is. I don't need to change anything about my game. Football is my blood. I'm a coach's son. I've been taking three- and five-step drops since I can recall. Size, the systems, whatever you want to call it, doesn't matter to Drew Brees. Why would it matter to me? I have really good feet. I have a quick release. I can make any throw on the field. I know I can compete on the next level."

To help prepare for the draft, Keenum is working with former NFL quarterback Jerry Rhome. A year ago, Rhome worked with Andy Dalton, who faced the same type of system-quarterback questions. Dalton went on to lead the Bengals to the playoffs as a rookie. Rhome is on record as saying Keenum has that same type of ability.

Dalton doesn't have a great arm, and Brees didn't coming out of Purdue, but his arm seems to have strengthened in the NFL as he has become one of the NFL's best. Some scouts I talked to think Keenum's arm is only OK. I think it's better than that.

"I feel like I'm not a guy who can throw it through a brick wall," Keenum said. "I have quick feet. I have a quick release. And anticipation. I'm going to get the ball wherever it needs to be whenever it needs to be there."

During his meet with the media, Keenum kept saying none of the stuff said about him bothered him.

"That just kind of comes out," he said.

To me, it seemed to bother him a lot. If you kept hearing no, no, no, wouldn't you get frustrated by it, too?

I asked Keenum if he had any doubt he would be a starter in the NFL.

"No doubt," he said. "That being said, I have a long way to go. I'm a competitor. I want to compete against the best and the best are in the NFL."

All you doubters out there, take note. Case Keenum is ready to fight.

Who doesn't love a smaller guy (football-wise) with an attitude?


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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