ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Vikings-Broncos exhibition Saturday night features more intrigue than the typical preseason opener.
Denver QB Case Keenum gets to face his former teammates whom he helped reach the NFC championship before management dumped him in favor of Kirk Cousins, the jewel of this winter’s free agent class.
Keenum said Wednesday he’s eager to face the Vikings.
“Definitely. I mean, I got a firsthand view of how good a defense it is, so I know we’ve got our work cut out for us. It’s going to be a great test. I’m excited to go compete against a really, really talented defense,” Keenum said.
Keenum insisted he holds no grudges.
“No, man. I love all those guys,” he said. “This Saturday it’s going to be a competition and we’re going to get after it. I know those guys are going to be jacked to get back on the field just like I’m jacked to get back on the field. But, no. No bad feelings.”
Keenum went 12-4 for the Vikings last season after injuries to Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater, but Minnesota moved on in the offseason, winning the Cousins sweepstakes with, among other things, a strong roster, a sparkling new stadium and a fully guaranteed contract for $84 million over three years.
Keenum signed a two-year, $36 million deal in Denver.
Asked what he admires about Keenum’s game after watching film of last season’s surge, Cousins said, “Any time you win 13 games and a playoff game you’re doing an outstanding job as a quarterback, but I’ve watched Case going back to his days in Houston running Coach (Gary) Kubiak’s offense, watching him in L.A. He won that job in training camp, and here, he’s just a winner.”
Cousins said Keenum does all the little things right: “There’s a lot of positives to his game.”
It’s just that the Vikings found more to like in Cousins’ repertoire.
“Case was a winner,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “He won a lot of games and moved well in the pocket. He’s a great teammate and made some outstanding plays for us.
“With Kirk, he’s been as advertised. He throws the deep ball well, very accurate, and takes charge of the offense.”
Cousins and Keenum figure to play a series or two Saturday night, then give way to their backups, and that’s where the real intrigue comes in.
Trevor Siemian won the Broncos’ starting job each of the last two summers but was traded to Minnesota after the Broncos signed Keenum.
Zimmer said Siemian’s 24 starts over the last two years and high IQ made him a perfect fit as Cousins’ backup.
Siemian said Keenum’s short stint in Minnesota is indicative of how important it is to have a capable backup ready to step in and run the offense should the starter get hurt.
“Case here, Nick Foles in Philly,” Siemian said. “Yeah, I think you’re one play away. My job is to prepare as if I’m starting and knock on wood, if I’m called upon, I’ll be ready to go.”
Siemian, however, might not even get as much work this weekend as another former Broncos QB, Kyle Sloter, who signed with the Vikings a year ago after a surprisingly strong camp in Denver.
The Broncos are still holding out hope that Paxton Lynch is a late-bloomer and not a first-round bust.
Broncos coach Vance Joseph declared Lynch and Chad Kelly would battle it out for the backup job this summer, yet Lynch has worked exclusively with the second-teamers while Kelly has worked with the third-stringers so far.
Kelly, however, has consistently outshined Lynch and was clearly the superior quarterback in a recent scrimmage.
Lynch figures to get the bulk of the snaps Saturday night for Denver, and his performance could go a long way in determining if the Broncos need to consider signing a veteran backup for Keenum.