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Keenum listed as starter over Jared Goff for first exhibition game, but ......

August 08, 2016 07:46PM
Keenum listed as starter over Jared Goff for first exhibition game, but Rams aren't naming regular-season starter yet



IRVINE – The Rams put a depth chart together for their game Saturday against the Cowboys – for whatever that’s worth. Predictably, all eyes were immediately drawn to the quarterback position, for which the name Case Keenum is listed first.

That’s neither a surprise or particularly newsworthy. It carries no hidden message, nor does it necessarily reflect where the quarterback position will stand one month from now or even two weeks from now.

As sure as Team USA will crush the field on its way to Olympic basketball gold in Rio, Keenum was going to start the Rams’ first preseason game ahead of rookie Jared Goff, the first overall pick in April’s draft and the future face of the franchise.

It’s a point the Rams have made overtly and privately almost from the moment they turned their draft card in to Roger Goodell four months ago in Chicago and officially hitched their wagon to the former Golden Bear.

The message then and now is clear: Goff will eventually be the Rams starter, but they will neither rush it or put a timeline on it. His ascent to the throne will be an organic process rather than contrived.

Until Goff successfully completes that process – and make no mistake, it’s on him and him alone to make that case – Keenum is the starter.

Which brings us back to the depth chart, and the stir it caused when word started spreading that Keenum would be under center when the Rams first take the field against the Cowboys at the Coliseum on Saturday rather than Goff.

Upon doing some poking around, the advice I was given and the recommendation I will pass along is this: The depth chart for Saturday is so inconsequential at some positions, rather than digest it with a grain of salt, best bet is to taste it, swish it around and then just spit it out.

That is, unless you actually think T.J. McDonald, who has been running with the ones all camp, is really the third-string safety.

That isn’t to say Goff will absolutely be the starting quarterback when the Rams open the regular season against the 49ers.

Only that the Rams aren’t close to making a declaration one way or another.

Which makes sense, of course.

There is absolutely no upside to naming Goff the starter right now, even if the Rams believe he’s ready or just want convince themselves and others they nailed the top pick in the draft.

In fact, it would set up a potential downside so detrimental and destructive it could take months – if not longer – to climb out from under the rubble.

If you declare Goff the starter barely two weeks into training camp – only to find out he isn’t ready to command a preseason game let alone the bright lights of the regular season – the awkward walk back from that decision and ensuing drama could engulf the rest of the season.

Forget the firestorm it would create outside the organization, the damage inside the locker room could be devastating.

It’s hard enough as it is navigating across the treacherous waters of an NFL season, let alone sabotaging the voyage by poking self-inflicted holes into the bottom of the boat.

So the Rams will prudently wait to declare Goff the starter. The goal, of course, is that it’s a decision they’ll make just one time over the foreseeable future. The last thing they want upon handing him the keys to the car is a sharp, immediate U-turn back to the garage.

Not that it isn’t a fair question, wondering how long it will take Goff to state his case as the starter.

His first week of training camp offered just glimpses of a possible timeline.

There were obvious growing pains at the beginning of the week, when the bulk of his interceptions and poorly thrown balls were thrown. But he showed progress over the first six practices, including a strong day Tuesday on the first day of pads and a perfectly run two-minute drill during Saturday’s scrimmage at the Coliseum when he marched the Rams 65 yards in 1:34 for a touchdown.

It was a segment that revealed intangibles just as much as talent, such as game clock, play clock and timeout management and the leadership qualities essential to the quarterback position.

Like when fellow rookie Duke Williams dropped a perfectly thrown pass at the goal line as the Rams were closing in on the end zone. Rather than sulk or get angry, Goff immediately pulled Williams aside and told him to forget about the drop and that the ball was coming his way if he was open.

“I told him, right after he dropped it. I said I’m going to come right back (to you),” Goff said.

True to his word, two plays later Goff found Williams cutting across the end zone for a perfectly thrown touchdown pass.

It was a telling moment, and it left Rams coach Jeff Fisher praising the two-minute drill performance and Goff’s overall performance the first week of camp.

“He’s been doing a great job with his reads, and he’s been getting better every day,” Fisher said.

Behind the scenes, the Rams have expressed confidence Goff is progressing at an adequate pace and that he’s consistently flashed the skill set that convinced them he was the best player in the draft.

At his best, he’s been poised and timely while delivering accurate passes on the throws he’s been asked to make – most of them the medium to short variety.

His problems occur when he doesn’t set his feet correctly – more often than not when he’s lofted throws off his back foot – and balls sail on him. You can sometimes get away with that in college, but in the NFL, not so much.

While he’s thrown his share of picks over the first week, the organization believes the interceptions are the result of correctable mistakes rather than talent flaws.

It’s not enough to anoint him the starter yet.

But a month ahead of the season opener, there is plenty of time for that to happen organically rather than forced.

  Keenum listed as starter over Jared Goff for first exhibition game, but ......

RamBill512August 08, 2016 07:46PM