Cassel takes advantage of new surroundings

Matt Cassel had a solid debut as Christian Ponder's backup, reversing the playing time on the starter. Ponder got two plays; Cassel got nearly two quarters of play and talked about his performance.

It was a tale of two quarterbacks Friday night for the Vikings – starter Christian Ponder was in for just two plays and backup Matt Cassel played for two quarters, giving the Vikings a 13-10 lead heading into halftime that eventually turned into a 27-13 loss. But both quarterbacks were able to take away something positive from Friday's game.

Ponder's night was extremely brief. After rookie Cordarrelle Patterson took the opening kickoff 50 yards to near midfield, Ponder completed his first pass of the night – a 15-yard connection to Jerome Simpson. He went back to Simpson on the next play and the ball hit off the receivers' hands, deflected high into the air and was intercepted by Houston safety Shiloh Keo.

After just two plays, Ponder's helmet was replaced with a ball cap, but he was mindful of the rationale that went into the decision.

"I understand the whole reason behind it," Ponder said. "First of all, you don't want anyone to get hurt, especially in the first preseason game. Second, there are a lot of guys that need these games to try to make the roster spots and get playing time. We knew we would only get one series. We just wish it would have been a longer drive so we could have done more."

Cassel played the remainder of the first half, completing 12 of 19 passes for 212 yards with one touchdown and one interception. His night included a 61-yard touchdown to fullback Zach Line and completions of 56 yards to Stephen Burton and passes of 22 and 18 yards to Patterson.

Coming off a frustrating season in Kansas City last year, Cassel has been heartened by the reaction of Vikings fans to him and is convinced he made the right decision coming to Minnesota.

"It's been great," Cassel said. "It's been refreshing. A new start is exactly what me and my family needed. I'm excited to be here and playing for the Vikings."

Cassel said he felt very comfortable in the pocket and was happy to get the opportunity to work so long with his new teammates. While it wasn't a textbook performance, he felt the extended playing time was just what he needed in his first game as a Viking.

"I have a comfort level, but every time you get out on the football field, it's a learning experience," Cassel said. "There's a lot of thing we'll need to clean up, but that's why we do preseason – to get those little rough spots out of the way, clean up your footwork and your reads. Tonight was the first step in getting ready to go for the season."

Cassel got to work with almost all of the Vikings receivers and being in for 31 plays was a big advantage for him in building a rapport with his receivers and picking up on the live action of Bill Musgrave's offense.

"It's huge," Cassel said. "The little nuances of any offense and the details of it, any time you're in practice you get three reps here or three reps there. In a live situation when the bullets are flying and you've to get in the huddle, get to the line of scrimmage and go, there's no substitute for that. That's why preseason is so pivotal, especially for the guys that are the backups."

Starting next week, the roles are going to start reversing themselves. Cassel will be phased out, while Ponder gets more time. How much more is yet to be determined, but Ponder is convinced it will be markedly more than his brief cameo Friday night.

"I don't know yet," Ponder said of his projected playing time next week. "It will probably be a quarter or so. It will definitely be more than two plays, I'm pretty confident of that."

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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