The Vikings made sure Matt Cassel knew the score when he signed as a free agent with the Vikings: He is Christian Ponder's backup.
Cassel reiterated those words after signing, making it clear all involved – him, Ponder and coaches – were on the same page. But understanding the situation and still being competitive require a delicate balance between a veteran quarterback who has tasted success as a starter, even if his best days were five years ago, and a young current-day starter who hopes to emerge and end all doubt that he should be the Vikings' starter.
"If you're not competing at this level, then you shouldn't be playing anymore. Of course I'm going to come out and compete and give my best every day," Cassel said after a recent practice with the Vikings. "But at the same time, because we spend so much time together in our quarterback room, it's important to understand that we're all working together and getting each other better."
To be clear, Ponder is taking the vast majority of the snaps with the first-team offense on days that organized team activities have been open to the media, as would be expected. And everyone in the organization continues to trumpet Ponder's final four-game stretch last season, when he threw four touchdowns and one interception, as proof that he is progressing into a quality NFL starter.
Still, with a roster that management believes is improving, the Vikings also believe they are in a better position this year if Ponder should struggle. They appear to have a more talented supporting cast on offense and they have Cassel, who has started 62 games over the last five seasons and has thrown 82 touchdowns and 57 interceptions in his eight years in the league.
Despite all that experience, Cassel is forced to learn a new offense … again.
"I've been in the last five years six different offenses. I know how to do it, but again, the terminology, you have to get that nailed down pat so you're not making any mistakes," Cassel said.
"You try to keep it simple. It can get confusing at times, but if you work hard and continue to study it will all work itself out."
To that end, Cassel has been working diligently with quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave watching film and trying to get used to the their scheme.
"Some of that stuff is just repetition as well, getting those reps and repping a play that you've never repped before," he said.
And there will be times that he has to lean on Ponder for advice since he has had two years working with Musgrave and Johnson. That creates a need for chemistry in the quarterback's classroom.
"There's no doubt. A lot of people don't understand how much time quarterbacks spend together," Cassel said. "I spend more time during the season with these guys than I do my own wife and kids. You've got to have a good quarterback room. You've got to know that everybody is supporting each other. You're not undermining anybody. That's what makes a good quarterback room and allows everybody to excel."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Competing, chemistry delicate balance for QBs
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