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Wild ride brings Case Keenum back to St. Louis

6/11/2015

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Case Keenum hasn't quite gotten to the point where he's requested a light rail to be built between St. Louis and Houston, but the thought has at least crossed his mind.

In less than a year, Keenum's NFL career has offered a series of stops and starts between the Rams and Texans as the quarterback has sought a more permanent home. For now, he hopes St. Louis is the place to provide it.

"Hopefully, this time it’s a little more permanent,” Keenum said. “I felt like we did some good stuff last season. I like them and I think they like me. I’m glad they brought me back.”

To see how Keenum got back to St. Louis is to observe the vagaries of life as a backup quarterback (or backup anything) in the NFL.

Keenum is something of a hometown hero in Houston, where he played his college ball and posted video-game numbers while taking the Cougars to lofty heights. Despite that production, he went undrafted in 2012 and signed with the hometown Texans. For his first two years, everything went according to plan. He stuck with the Texans and even earned eight starts in 2013.

In an effort to improve their quarterback depth chart in 2014, Houston traded for Ryan Mallett and drafted Tom Savage to compete with veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick. Keenum suddenly went from starting half the team's games to odd man out. The Texans released him near the end of the training camp.

The Rams, meanwhile, were again dealing with a major injury at quarterback after Sam Bradford suffered a second straight torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. They claimed Keenum with an eye toward having him serve as the backup to Shaun Hill and Austin Davis. But by the time Keenum arrived in St. Louis, it was too late to get caught up in the offense and have a legitimate shot to compete for playing time.

And with training camp over, the days of giving reps to the third-string quarterback had already passed. Keenum was active for just one game and the team released him and re-signed him to the practice squad after an October trade for safety Mark Barron.

"Last year during the season, it was the ones and twos taking all the reps and everybody else just kind of stood around," Keenum said. "When you just get plucked from one team in the middle of the season and put on another, it’s tough to do that."

Back in Houston, quarterback injuries became the order of the day as Fitzpatrick, Mallett and Savage each suffered injuries that left the Texans scrambling for a quarterback. They signed Keenum to their active roster in December. He started and won the final two games of the year.

Keenum said he had to take the opportunity to go back to Houston, but left on good terms with the Rams despite a relative lack of opportunity.

"I think when the whole thing went down last year to go back to the Texans for an opportunity to play, it was really hard to pass that up," Keenum said. "At the same time, I told coach Fisher and all the guys that I really really enjoyed my time here. The atmosphere, the organization, it was really special to me."

So special, in fact, that Keenum eyed a possible return heading into the offseason. After Houston signed Brian Hoyer and re-signed Mallett, there simply wasn't room on Houston's roster. The Rams decided to do a major makeover of their quarterback room, trading Bradford and allowing Hill to walk in free agency. On the same day they dealt Bradford to the Philadelphia Eagles, they traded a 2016 seventh-round pick to the Texans for Keenum.

This time, there was nothing knee-jerk about acquiring Keenum. Instead, the Rams have a clear plan to allow him to compete with Davis for the No. 2 job. And Keenum should benefit from having an entire offseason to learn the playbook and take the same reps as the rest of the quarterbacks.

"I think that, I hope it will do a tremendous amount for my repertoire here," Keenum said. "It’s nice getting reps, not just scout-team stuff. I’m excited to go through and build chemistry with guys.

"Now I’m going through the installs and meetings and learning stuff right along side everybody instead of learning a game plan and trying to go back and learn stuff that those guys learned on day Day 1. It’s been a big deal being here in the offseason rather than just being plucked."