Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 2/16/12
At Danny Arnold's place on a Thursday morning, the guy everyone believes in sits down on a bench, grabs a water and leaks on the ground. "No pain, no gain," he says. At this same moment, the guy nobody believes in is taking seven-step drops and throwing passes outside. His gain is less about pain, and more about precision. Arnold is an athletic trainer with a facility called Plex in suburban Houston, where Dre Kirkpatrick and Case Keenum are among the handfuls of athletes working out. He works with athletes on strength and speed and agility. Last summer, a bunch of NFL players worked out at Plex while they waited for the lockout to end. Wednesday, a bunch of NFL hopefuls worked out there preparing for the NFL Combine. Chances are you have heard of both. Kirkpatrick was an All-American cornerback at Alabama. Keenum set all the big NCAA career passing records at Houston. In the world of college football, they are both stars. But in the world of professional football, Kirkpatrick is the guy who has everything and Keenum is the guy trying to prove he has something. "I feel like there's a lot of room for improvement for everything," Kirkpatrick said. "I'm in the best shape of my life," Keenum said. This is an oversimplification, obviously, but Kirkpatrick is the classic blue-chipper. He was a five-star recruit in high school, an All-American and national champion at Alabama, Kirkpatrick has been projected as a top-10 draft pick. In 14 years, Arnold said, he has never worked with a player who combined Kirkpatrick's hip movement and foot quickness. It is worth noting, here, that Arnold has trained Charles Woodson. And then there is Keenum, who was hardly recruited at all, and even after setting NCAA career marks for passing yards, touchdowns and completions and leading the Cougars to a 13-1 2011 season, enters the combine widely perceived as a system quarterback who lacks the physical tools to succeed in the NFL. This is not the perception of Jerry Rhome, a longtime NFL quarterbacks coach was hired by Keenum's agent to prepare Keenum for the combine. "I heard the same identical thing about Andy Dalton last year," Rhome said, referring to the quarterback the Cincinnati Bengals drafted out of TCU. "Exactly the same thing. I say the same thing. He will overcome all that. You're looking for a player that can produce and play. This kid has produced and been a great player. He's got great accuracy. He's got plenty of arm strength. I laugh about it. I really laugh about it. I told everybody last year Andy Dalton is going to be the surprise of the NFL, and he is." In any evaluation of things that can be measured with clocks or tape, Kirkpatrick is a no-brainer and Keenum is an underdog. But there is some separation between the two elsewhere, too. Keenum is married. He has never been in trouble. He is seen as a leader, a student, a quarterback. Kirkpatrick, on the other hand, got busted for marijuana possession in January. The charges were dropped, but it's something he'll have to deal with as the draft approaches. Chances are, it won't make much of a difference. Because of his 6-foot-3 frame, Kirkpatrick gets compared to Antonio Cromartie a lot. Because he played for Nick Saban at Alabama, NFL teams have a pretty good idea they're getting a well-schooled cornerback. "I call him pops," Kirkpatrick said. "He don't treat you like a player when you're playing in the secondary. He treats you like his sons. We are his babies. He's just a great teacher. He watches every little thing." A bad combine performance can ruin even an All-American's draft stock, but the chances of that happening to Kirkpatrick are slim. He said he's been working on a little of everything in the month or so he's been in Houston, but this is a player who has been vetted. He needs only to avoid disaster between now and April 26. Keenum is in a different spot. He is looking to prove he can (a) make all the throws and (b) do it from under center, where he has never played. He says he is in the best shape of his life. "You want to be as prepared as you can, and I think I'm there," Keenum said. Rhome doesn't see it as a major issue. In his view, you can either play or you can't. Rhome worked with Dalton last year, and he thinks Keenum can do the same. "I hope the same thing happens for Case," Rhome said. "He's certainly got that kind of athletic ability." Keenum and Kirkpatrick are in the same boat. Sort of. One is trying to prove he can play, and the other only needs to avoid proving he can't.
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