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Case Keenum finds comfort level in Denver’s offense

November 29, 2018

FILE - In this Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, file photo, Denver Broncos quarterback Case Keenum throws a pass against the Los Angeles Chargers during the second half of an NFL football game in Carson, Calif. Keenem, who hasn't been picked off in November after throwing interceptions in each of his first eight games, is playing behind a makeshift offensive line, with two tackles playing guard and a guard at center. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo, File)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Case Keenum has a simple answer for why none of his passes were picked off in November after throwing interceptions in each of his first eight games as the Denver Broncos’ new quarterback.

“I’m throwing it to our guys, not throwing it to the other team,” Keenum said. “Who knew?”

It’s actually more than just Keenum taking care of the football.

“I just think he’s getting comfortable with the system,” receiver Emmanuel Sanders said.

Denver’s makeshift offensive line, with two tackles playing guard and a guard at center, deserves some credit. So does offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, who’s navigated through a turnstile at tight end, the loss of leader Demaryius Thomas and youthful mistakes at receiver to refine his play calls for Keenum.

Left tackle Garett Bolles has started to settle into his job as Keenum’s blindside protector and rookie running back Phillip Lindsay’s remarkable season has helped highlight the play-action passes that Keenum favors.

Keenum took a lot longer to adjust to his new role, new team and new offense than the Broncos (5-6) hoped.

He threw three interceptions in his Denver debut and then strung together seven more games with an interception, an alarming string given that he had just seven interceptions in leading the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC championship game last year after Sam Bradford got hurt.

Keenum said he’s “just being smarter with the ball. It’s something I do. That’s why early on in the season I was frustrated. It’s tough. That’s something I pride myself on as a quarterback, giving our team a chance to win and not being the reason that we aren’t winning. Turnovers in this league is probably the biggest stat that really matters.”

The Broncos, who visit the Bengals (5-6) next, allowed a whopping 1,006 yards the last two weeks but they ended six-game winning streaks by the Chargers and Steelers because they collected seven takeaways and had zero turnovers.

While Von Miller and Chris Harris Jr. and Shelby Harris were getting all the accolades for their interceptions, Keenum was quietly taking care of the football.

Ball security, Keenum said, is “something I think about every day. Every decision I make, I know the ball is the most important thing on the field. I’ve got it in my hands every play, so I know every decision I make is that important.

“That’s why I grind, that’s why I work, and we’ve gotten better across the board — offensive line, running backs and receivers,” Keenum said. “We’re all on the same page, getting better, working each week and communicating. We feel better with the offense and it’s just a lot of different things, a lot of factors.”

Keenum said the learning curve at quarterback in the NFL is infinite.

“Do I feel a lot better than I did at training camp? Heck, yeah,” Keenum said. “I think we’re light years ahead of where we were then. But at the same time, I still feel like we have a long way to go.”

And Keenum has an ever-changing supporting cast, too:

ROOKIE RECEIVERS

The trade of Thomas to Houston may have opened more opportunities for the Broncos’ young pass catchers but it also robbed rookie receivers Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton of their best on-field tutor.

Since Thomas’ departure, Sutton has started three games and caught seven passes for 149 yards and no touchdowns. But some of his grabs came in clutch moments.

“I think he’s doing great,” Keenum said. “He’s continuing to work, continuing to grind and continuing to not be a rookie. I see him as a vet that I can count on to play and make big plays when I need him to.”

Sutton hasn’t caught more than three passes in a game, however, and his last touchdown came Oct. 28.

Hamilton was inactive against Houston in Thomas’ hasty homecoming game, then caught one pass for 4 yards against the Chargers and one pass for 13 yards against Pittsburgh. He has yet to score a touchdown.

TIGHT END TURNSTILE

Targeting tight ends has long been a big part of Keenum’s repertoire. But Jeff Heuerman broke three ribs and bruised a lung last week and joined Jake Butt (knee) and Troy Fumagalli (sports hernia) on IR.

That leaves Denver with three unproven tight ends:

—Matt LaCosse, a fourth-year pro who scored his first NFL touchdown last week.

—Brian Parker, a third-year pro who has one career catch in 17 games with the Chiefs, Jets and Broncos.

—Temarrick Hemingway, a third-year pro who had no receptions in eight games in 2016 with the Rams, where Keenum was his teammate.

“I’m the product of a next-man-up mentality,” Keenum said. “That’s when I got my opportunity, was an injury. One person’s unfortunate incident and having a guy go down might be the start of somebody’s great career.”

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