SEATTLE – The football appears to be bouncing Case Keenum’s way for the job of Vikings backup quarterback.
Keenum, entering his sixth NFL season, has been slotted as the No. 2 quarterback ahead of Taylor Heinicke in each of the Vikings preseason games in Buffalo and Seattle. The Vikings aren’t ready to make a decision yet, according to coach Mike Zimmer, but Keenum so far has provided the type of turnover-free security that comforts NFL teams.
“I think he has played pretty good,” Zimmer said. “I have to continue to look. I don’t think that anything is decided, so we have some more time to figure that out.”
Two more exhibitions — against the 49ers and Dolphins — will help solidify the Vikings’ QB pecking order, which still does not include Teddy Bridgewater. He remains on the physically unable to perform list, where he appears likely to be at the start of the regular season.
So the carousel of Vikings passers in Minnesota continues to turn behind starter Sam Bradford, who is coming off a career-high 29 games played in consecutive seasons. Should that change, Keenum said he wants the Vikings coaching staff to know they have a reliable option before roster cuts are made Sept. 2. Both Keenum and Heinicke are scheduled to become free agents next spring.
“Just be a guy this team can count on if they need me,” Keenum said. “Showing an improvement that I can operate in this system, operate this offense and get the ball in the right guy’s hands.”
A little fortune hasn’t hurt Keenum, who stutter-stepped his way through a quick-passing game by completing 12 of 18 passes for 70 yards against the Seahawks on Friday night. His best stretch came during a decisive two-minute drill that ended with a 51-yard field goal.
Keenum still found himself in hot water but escaped without causing any damage on two interceptable passes. Seahawks cornerback Neiko Thorpe dropped one. The other was batted into the air by Seahawks linebacker Kache Palacio, but offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles saved Keenum with a 5-yard catch.
“Some good, some bad,” Keenum said when assessing his night. “We had a good two-minute drive there, but the preseason is about giving guys chances and letting them make plays. There were a few times I didn’t do that.”
From the No. 3 quarterback spot, Heinicke took the Vikings on a roller coaster ride in just 14 snaps.
Heinicke, who has two preseason touchdown passes to Keenum’s zero, wasn’t as lucky when receiver Isaac Fruechte failed to corral a quick pass on a slant. Seahawks safety Tedric Thompson picked off the tipped ball for Heinicke’s second preseason interception (to Keenum’s zero).
There was a miscommunication with one receiver. Another time, Heinicke short-armed a pass into the turf. Then he’d provide a spark with his legs — as one of a handful of Division I passers to ever throw for 10,000 yards and run for another 1,000 yards while at Old Dominion — on a couple of scrambles.
That’s not always a good thing. Playing in just his second preseason game since 2015, Heinicke said he still too often has a tendency to tuck and run instead of keeping his eyes downfield and developing as a pocket passer.
“There’s always room for improvement, just staying in the pocket and going through my reads,” Heinicke said. “Obviously sometimes an offensive lineman gets beat or they outscheme you and you need to make a play. But I think there were a couple times where I could’ve stayed in the pocket and made better throws.”
Ending Friday night on a high note, with consecutive passes to tight end Bucky Hodges for 54 yards and the Vikings’ lone touchdown, will help Heinicke’s development. But Heinicke has not played in a regular-season game yet, while Keenum, with 24 career starts and 777 pass attempts under his belt, has looked more comfortable.
“Experience is priceless in this league,” Keenum said. “I’ve been here in December and played against [the Seahawks]. I’ve played those guys quite a bit. The experience of those situations is always something I’ve learned from and grown from.”