Case Keenum has a chance at a fairy tale

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
3:00
PM ET

HOUSTON -- Two weeks ago, Case Keenum admitted nerves might come with his first NFL start.

How could they not in front of the rabid crowd he faced in Kansas City?

This week he'll have a different kind of feeling.

Goosebumps for a different reason.

"I know Sunday night it’s going to be very special," Keenum said.

When the Texans take the field Sunday night to play the Indianapolis Colts, they should introduce their offense. They should let their new starting quarterback, the second-year player who spent last season on the practice squad, run out last to savor the adulation of a fan base that knows him well.

Texans coach Gary Kubiak is giving Keenum a chance not many players get. He's giving him a chance for a fairy tale.

The weekend before last, after Keenum's debut for the Texans on the road, running back Ben Tate called Keenum a "natural-born leader." He reiterated the thought Monday.

It's an awkward situation for a lot of the locker room. Matt Schaub hadn't lost his teammates. He's a guy they respect and like. On the other hand, they knew Schaub was struggling.

The injury opened the door for Kubiak to make a change. After Schaub suffered an ankle and foot sprain against the St. Louis Rams, Kubiak no longer had to decide whether to allow Schaub the time to recover from a stretch of games during which he threw interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in four straight weeks. If Schaub stayed healthy, starting an unproven young quarterback would have been a much more difficult decision.

Instead, Kubiak simply had to choose one reserve over another. After T.J. Yates struggled mightily in relief of Schaub against the Rams, Kubiak took a big swing. He went with the quarterback he'd kept inactive all season, just to see what he could do. Then he liked what he saw so much that he stayed with him.

Schaub didn't take the out when I asked whether he felt he lost his job because of the injury.

"No, I don't know," Schaub said. "I think, obviously, I haven't played up to my standards this year. I think that's more where it stems from."

Becoming a starting quarterback in the NFL is a dream for many. Doing it through the circuitous path Keenum has taken is unlikely.

He didn't play at a big-time university -- he played at the University of Houston, where his Cougars were one of those pesky BCS-busting teams for a while. He suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury that left him wondering, at times, whether he'd ever make it back. He had fans among NFL personnel people, but none faithful enough to actually spend a draft pick on him in 2012, a year when 11 quarterbacks were drafted and five of them are currently starters.

On the other hand, Keenum had a crowd of believers among not just his family and friends, but those people who rooted for him at UH, who saw him become the most prolific quarterback in NCAA FBS history.

He and Arian Foster, another former undrafted free agent, talked recently about dreams and goals.

But it only starts with an opportunity.

Where Keenum's story ends is up to him now.

It's entirely possible the Texans will continue to struggle and that Keenum's story is better than his production.

It's also entirely possible that he plays exactly how his believers think he will and that he leads the Texans out of their quagmire. He could make his own fairy tale.

Tania Ganguli

ESPN Houston Texans reporter

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