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Thursday, October 17, 2013
Lessons for Texans from Tebow experiment

By Tania Ganguli

Yates/Keenum
The Texans chose QB Case Keenum (right), a local product who holds several NCAA records, over the more experienced T.J. Yates to start.
HOUSTON -- Case Keenum smiled and his eyes glinted as he talked about how cool it would be to fulfill a lifelong dream.

T.J. Yates spoke solemnly about the task at hand, having been in this position before, knowing his status as the team's backup quarterback was in danger.

"Case just has sort of like an aura about him," Andre Johnson said. "When he’s out there, he’s real excited, having fun. T.J., he just goes out there and plays. He takes more of a business approach to it."

The Texans went with the fresh-faced Keenum over the the more experienced Yates. Gary Kubiak announced the decision on Thursday, saying the Texans were struggling and needed a spark.

"His eyes got really big," Kubiak said of Keenum's reaction when he was told. He'd completed the transition from practice squad quarterback to third stringer at the start of this season, when he's been inactive all year, to the precipice of starting his first NFL game.

See what Keenum can do, some said. And the Texans have done just that. As they work through this week and go forward, the Texans can take lessons from another team's quarterback situation.

On some level, I hesitate to begin this discussion, because Keenum and Tim Tebow have as many differences as similarities.

They were both heralded college quarterbacks who put up big numbers and won games. They are both players for whom the local NFL fan base has clamored given the struggles of the starters in each town.

On the other hand, Tebow was a first-round draft pick and given the benefit of the doubt, despite some obvious red flags, since he was a Heisman Trophy winner and a national champion at the University of Florida.

Keenum, meanwhile, was considered just a system quarterback and too small to play in the NFL despite a record-setting career at the University of Houston. He went undrafted and spent his rookie year on the Texans' practice squad, learning. He has grown into a better passer than Tebow ever was with better football acumen, too.

While it's impossible to compare the two players, it's useful to compare their situations.

Right now, the Texans find themselves in need of a jolt, and many people, including Kubiak, think Keenum will provide it.

There came a time in the fall of 2011 when the Denver Broncos needed a jolt.

Their starting quarterback, Kyle Orton, appeared to lose his confidence and seemed unlikely to get it back. They were 1-3 and down 13 points at halftime to the San Diego Chargers. The new, post-lockout coaching staff finally gave in to the most popular third-stringer in town, a once-prolific college quarterback.

"You heard it every single game, 'We want Tebow,'" said Texans linebacker Joe Mays, who was with the Broncos at the time. "We kind of knew something had to shake. The fans, they do have a little bit of a say-so when it comes to what the team does. I felt like when we [weren't] winning, we were losing all those games, Tebow’s going to have to play sooner or later. We felt it coming, especially with the way Orton [was playing]; he didn’t really play too well. We were losing games. That didn’t help anything."

Tim Tebow
Fan favorite Tim Tebow provided the Broncos with a spark en route to a playoff run. Could Case Keenum do the same for the Texans?
Denver lost to San Diego but won seven of its next eight games with Tebow as the starter. The Broncos lost the final three games of the regular season, beat the Steelers in the playoffs and lost to the New England Patriots 45-10 in the divisional round.

Some saw Denver's playoff run as proof of Tebow's quarterback ability. The Broncos did not. They began shopping him during that year's NFL combine in February, gauging interest from at least one team even before the Colts cut Peyton Manning. Once the Broncos officially signed Manning, they traded Tebow to the New York Jets.

But this fact remained: The change to Tebow energized the floundering Broncos. And the element of surprise that came from an offense that changed for Tebow helped Denver. It didn't matter that he wasn't a long-term solution. What mattered was what he changed immediately.

"I’m not sure if the atmosphere changed. We just realized whoever the quarterback was going to be, we had to stick up for him," Mays said. "We had to play for him, and we had to believe in him. That’s going to be the same thing here with Schaub being out this week."

The Texans need a jolt right now. Keenum is hugely popular in Houston. Like Tebow, he was outplayed in the preseason and training camp by the man who won the backup job.

There are things the Texans can learn from that situation.

Even though Orton hadn't lost the locker room, just like Schaub still has his teammates' support, change helped. But change came in a situation where Denver felt it had nothing to lose.

Today the Texans chose between two quarterbacks between whom the skill gap wasn't wide. But one of them had a shaky outing against the St. Louis Rams, throwing two interceptions, while another is a spirited unknown.

Like Denver two years ago, the Texans have nothing to lose by making this move.

What they gain will be worth watching.