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Rams quarterback Jared Goff will be facing off against his rookie-year mentor, Case Keenum

Rams quarterback Jared Goff will be facing off against his rookie-year mentor, Case Keenum
During the 2016 season, Case Keenum (17) was the starting quarterback for the Rams and Jared Goff (16) was the backup. (Ryan Kang / Associated Press)

They spent the 2016 season studying together in the Rams’ quarterback room, the veteran starter showing the rookie the NFL ropes even though it was inevitable that the younger player would displace him.

Jared Goff never misses an opportunity to praise Case Keenum for the way Keenum navigated the potentially awkward situation and helped him after the Rams selected Goff with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.

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Both players have ascended since that 4-12 season.

Goff led the Rams to a division title and made the Pro Bowl in 2017. Through five games this season, he leads the league in passing yardage and is in the early discussion for the NFL’s most-valuable-player award.

Last season with the Minnesota Vikings, Keenum took over as the starter after Sam Bradford suffered a knee injury in the opener. He led the Vikings to the NFC title game, defeating the Rams in a Week 11 game along the way. In March, the Denver Broncos gave Keenum a two-year, $36-million contract to be their starter.

Goff and Keenum meet again Sunday when the Rams play the Broncos at Broncos Stadium at Mile High.

The Rams are 5-0 and regarded as a Super Bowl favorite. The Broncos won their first two games but have lost three in a row.

Goff, who turns 24 on Sunday, and Keenum, 30, follow each other’s careers.

“We’ve both grown and gotten so much better,” said Goff, who has passed for 12 touchdowns, with four interceptions. “You see him more comfortable and just continuing to get better, and it’s rare that that happens.

“But, I think that’s such a testament to the guy he is that this late in his career that he’s able to continue to get better and continue to improve. It’s awesome to see.”

Said Keenum: “He’s just continuing what he’s done over last season. He made so many great advances in how he’s playing ball. Last year, he exploded and hasn’t missed a beat. It’s gotten even better.”

Goff has passed for a league-best 1,727 yards, and he is second behind New Orleans’ Drew Brees in completion percentage (72.3%) and passer rating (119.7).

“He’s playing like an MVP veteran quarterback,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said.

With coach Sean McVay calling plays, and an offensive line that has given up only six sacks, Goff is taking advantage of the talents of running back Todd Gurley and receivers Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp.

The Rams are averaging nearly 35 points a game.

“He’s doing such a good job taking care of the ball and just giving those guys chances,” Keenum said.

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Broncos general manager John Elway was looking for a quarterback with a similar skill set when he signed Keenum. The seventh-year pro started the first nine games of the 2016 season for the Rams, and 14 games for the Vikings last season. But this is the first time Keenum has not had to look over his shoulder.

“They brought me here to be a leader and to be the guy,” said Keenum, who has passed for 1,305 yards and five touchdowns, with seven interceptions.

The Broncos opened the season with victories over the Seattle Seahawks and the Oakland Raiders, but have lost to the Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets.

Keenum completed 35 of 51 passes for 377 yards and two touchdowns, with an interception, in the 34-16 loss to the Jets.

Many of the defensive players that he will face Sunday were teammates during his two-plus seasons with the Rams, including linemen Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers, linebackers Mark Barron, Cory Littleton and Matt Longacre, and safety Lamarcus Joyner.

“Starting up front, those guys, I know how they play,” Keenum said. “I know the motors that those guys have. I know how big they are and strong and explosive and disruptive they are…. We’ve got to do a good job because we need to stay on the field. Because their offense, obviously, it’s high potent as you can get right now.”

Last season with the Vikings, Keenum passed for 280 yards and a touchdown in a 24-7 victory over the Rams. Goff passed for 225 yards.

That game was played indoors at U.S. Bank Stadium.

On Sunday, the forecast calls for temperatures in the 20s and possible snow.

“Just try to stay warm,” Goff said.

Keenum played in cold weather last season at Green Bay. But neither team will have an advantage on Sunday, he said.

“Everybody is dealing with the same temperature,” he said. “I don’t think it’s any different on their sideline than it is on ours. We’re all dealing with it. You have to be mentally tough about it.”

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