Coach Cassel

After a pro bowl season in 2010, Kansas City Chiefs Quarterback Matt Cassel is on a mission. He's had a roller coaster ride since he took over the offense in 2009. He's been openly criticized by his head coach and came out of nowhere a year ago to drive the Chiefs offense into the playoffs.

But that's all changed now. On Thursday morning, it was Cassel who made a statement by organizing the Chiefs three day mini-camp. And when it ended at Bishop Miege High School, there was no doubt as to his status as the teams leader.

It's been six years since his NFL career began. But Cassel came to the Chiefs two years ago after successfully taking over the reigns of the New England Patriots in 2008. That success dubbed Cassel as the first franchise quarterback in Kansas City since ‘Lenny the Cool'.

But since arriving two years ago in Kansas City, it's been a mixed bag for Cassel. His quarterback ratings have been as low as the 20's and as high as the 140's.

So on Thursday morning, when given the chance to watch the Chiefs practice; my eyes went directly to Cassel. And once there, it was hard to avoid him.

Cassel was the one and only leader on that field for the unofficial practice that, you guessed it, Cassel put together.

In organized team activities, mini-camps and training camp a year ago, I've heard Cassel pipe up during practice several times in the past but there was something different about the Chiefs quarterback this time around.

In St. Joseph last summer, I remember thinking that Cassel's leadership qualities came off a bit corny and forced. But those insecurities have all but vanished. Truthfully, Cassel looked to me like a coach running the practice this week. He was stern, precise, and he demanded respect from his guys.

In other words, he was a field general.

At one point in the late morning, the defense lost out on a drill when Cassel shouted "That's 10 pushups!"

Defensive lineman Shaun Smith bellowed back some sort of unintelligible mockery towards Cassel who was just a feet away. Cassel nonchalantly pointed at the ground in front of Smith's feet and sternly shouted for all his players to hear "That's 10 pushups".

Smith, for possibly the first time in his Chiefs career, without a clever retort, got down and did his 10 pushups with the rest of the defensive players.

But Smith isn't the only defensive player to chime in on Cassel's leadership during the three-day mini-camp.

"Matt's a guy that is the leader of our team," says Chiefs starting linebacker Derrick Johnson. "We definitely follow him. He's stepping up. Our hats are off to him. He wants to get better, that's his whole motto."

The Chiefs brought in Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi, which could put a bit of pressure on Cassel at some point in 2012. But if the incumbent starter continues to shine like he did on Thursday, Stanzi should ready himself for a long wait to run the Chiefs offense. Cassel looked like a savvy veteran leading these practices and all of his teammates noticed the difference.

"Doing something like this takes a lot of maturity," said offensive lineman Rudy Niswanger. "Guys showed up ready to work and a lot of that is due to Matt Cassel's leadership. We probably wouldn't have done it if it wasn't for his leadership and maturity shinning. Everything…all this…started with Matt."

But not all of the Chiefs that showed up this week were surprised to see Cassel taking the reins of this team. Veteran safety Jon McGraw says this process started before the 2010 season came to a close.

"I believe he solidified {his leadership role} last year but he continues to be a great leader for us. He stepped up and filled a gap out here without any coaches…and he did a tremendous job. Guys fell in line and followed orders and we got some really productive work in," McGraw said.

So what's on the opposite side of the coin?

For starters this wasn't a real practice. Sure it mimicked a typical OTA session but without pads its really hard to measure how good or bad any player looked.

It's also very unclear at this point how many more, if any, of these practice sessions will take place in the near future.

In 2011, Cassel will have to deal with the pressure of expectations this year. And in order for Cassel to get that monkey off his back, he needs to keep the rest of his team up to snuff and have another Pro Bowl season for the Chiefs.

As of now, it appears he's on track to do just that.

Practice Notes:
-Matt Cassel and first round draft pick Jonathan Baldwin connected on a 25-yard pass completion in the corner of the end zone. It was definitely the play of the day.

-Speaking of Baldwin, he really looks like a stud. In watching him up close and personal, he looks like an athletic freak in shorts. When I walked up to the practice field he was the first player I noticed. When seeing him running opposite Dwayne Bowe in the scrimmage, I couldn't help but be excited about what the two of them might be able to accomplish in this offense this season.

-Although none of the rookies were available for comments, it appeared that all seven of the Chiefs draft picks were in attendance today. This team needs instant impacts from a lot of these first year guys and them being in attendance this week was a very good start.

-Some notables not in attendance today were Tamba Hali, Brandon Albert, Brian Waters, Mike Vrabel, Brandon Carr, and Barry Richardson. During last season's OTA's, all roster players were in attendance. It should be noted however that Hali may still be recovering lingering injuries and Waters and Vrabel rarely attend offseason workouts anyway. And even more curious to see will be if both Union heavy leaders (Waters & Vrabel) will even make the Chiefs 2011 roster.

So do you think Cassel can have another Pro Bowl season in 2011?

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