Vikings QB Keenum conjures memories of Tarkenton
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The last time the Vikings went to the Super Bowl, they were led by scrambling quarterback Fran Tarkenton. Could another scrambler get them there this season?
Former Minnesota running back Chuck Foreman, who was on three Super Bowl teams in the 1970s with Tarkenton, isn’t making any predictions. But Foreman said Case Keenum does conjure up some memories of Tarkenton eluding pass rushers.
“They’re similar in a lot of ways because (Keenum) has the ability to escape a problem and make that problem into an asset,” Foreman said Wednesday, Dec. 6. “When it comes to that, he’s got a lot of the traits that Fran had. It makes (Keenum) special.”
Keenum is 8-2 as a starter for the Vikings, who are 10-2 and in position to have the No. 1 seed in the NFC. The top seed would assure that Minnesota, with Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium, would play all potential playoff games at home.
The Vikings put their eight-game winning streak on the line Sunday at Carolina (8-4). Their latest win was 14-9 last Sunday at Atlanta, a game Tarkenton attended.
The hall of famer played for the Vikings from 1961-66 and 1972-78, leading them to Super Bowls after the 1973, 1974 and 1976 seasons. He gave a pep talk to Minnesota players at the team hotel in Atlanta the night before the Falcons game.
Tarkenton brought with him the game ball he won when he threw four touchdown passes to lead the Vikings to a 37-13 victory over Chicago in the first game they played in 1961. He met Keenum for the first time.
“It was great,” Keenum said. “He’s awesome. I love getting to know him, getting to meet him, talking to him. He had some great words of advice for the team. … I’d love to put on some film of him this offseason or at some point and learn from that.”
Keenum has put some great escapes of his own on film this season. Perhaps his most impressive one came Nov. 19 against the Los Angeles Rams, when he turned what was about to be a 10-yard sack before he ducked under blitzing linebacker Connor Barwin and somehow lofted a wobbly pass that Adam Thielen pulled in for a 12-yard gain.
“That one against the Rams was pretty amazing,” guard Jeremiah Sirles said. “He’s a magician in the pocket. … He had a couple last week when he did a great job of keeping his eyes down the field and moving in the pocket and stepping around a rush and then finding someone to throw to.”
Keenum has been sacked just nine times in the 10½ games he has played for the Vikings. Plenty of that has to do with an improved offensive line, but Sirles said Keenum’s mobility has been just as important.
“He’s been pretty elusive and he’s extending big plays for us,” said tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Sunday’s game will match a pair of mobile quarterbacks in Keenum and Carolina’s Cam Newton. Unlike Newton, who has 515 yards on the ground this season, Keenum rarely has runs designed for him.
Still, Keenum, who has 102 yards rushing, can take off when needed. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer admitted after the Atlanta game that he “didn’t know how good of a movement guy in the pocket” Keenum was when the Vikings signed him in March.
“Some of it is vision,” Zimmer said Wednesday. “Some of it is the feel, having a feel in a pocket, understanding that sometimes coverages dictate that you can run.”
Keenum said a “lot of things” go into eluding the pass rush.
“Just trying to not be where they are,” Keenum said. “Just try to get away, and a lot of it is drill work that we’ve done on the practice field. But some of it just happens.”
Keenum shrugged off a comparison to Tarkenton as a scrambler, saying he hasn’t seen enough of the hall of famer’s film. But Rudolph has seen Tarkenton clips and said it’s a fair comparison.
When talking to the team last Saturday, Tarkenton said he sees similarities in Keenum.
“(Keenum) can get away from the pressure and he has his eyes always downfield, making big plays,” Foreman said. “It’s the same thing that Fran used to do. The play may have broken down, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be a great play.”