Matt Cassel knows there will be an adjustment period, but watching Norv Turner's offenses from the opposite sidelines in years past has the Vikings quarterback intrigued about playing for Turner, as opposed to watching him operate against Cassel's team.
Cassel is returning to the Vikings after signing a two-year, $10.5 million deal this week before free agency officially opened. He will be working with a new coaching staff, including head coach Mike Zimmer, Turner as his offensive coordinator, and Turner's son, Scott, as his quarterbacks coach.
"I'm extremely excited about working with (Norv) Turner. I think that his résumé speaks for itself. He's had a lot of success throughout his tenure in the NFL with multiple teams and multiple quarterbacks," Cassel said. "Obviously I had a chance to play against him when he was in San Diego and I was in Kansas City. The one thing you always knew about Coach is you're going to make sure you score a lot of points because he's going to take his shots and he does a phenomenal job of making mismatches with people inside, formationing people in different areas so you can get a great matchup. I think it's a very quarterback-friendly system and, like I said, I think my skillset really fits well in this system."
It would appear so. Despite starting less than half the games last year, Cassel finished 29th in the league with 26 passes of 20 yards or more, and 28th with five passes of 40 yards or more. In passes targeted 20 yards or more downfield, Cassel was accurate with 47.4 percent of them, according to Pro Football Focus, sixth-best in the league.
Turner is known for his downfield passing attack, so the union between him and Cassel, the most accurate downfield passer of the top free agent quarterbacks available, made sense.
"His résumé definitely will show throughout his career that he's going to put his quarterback in a great position to be successful, along with everybody else on that offensive side of the field," Cassel said. "Then you go in with that trust factor and then you obviously have to build that relationship and get to know him, how he likes to call the plays, how he sees the field, watching film and doing all of that stuff. But at the same time it gives you a lot of confidence as a player knowing that, hey, if I go in and do what I'm supposed to do, then there's a great possibility that I'm going to be very successful."
Cassel's veteran status should help him transition to Turner's system a little quicker than a quarterback with fewer than Cassel's nine years of NFL experience. He has worked under numerous offensive coordinators and systems, some of which have similarities to Turner's system.
"This is my first time in Norv's system. From what I understand it's more of a numbers system, which I have some familiarity with because I've had about seven coordinators in the last six years, so there's a little crossover at some point or another with those systems," Cassel said. "Until I get back there on April 7 and we start going through and getting back to work and learning that new playbook and trying to find out about the nuances and how he wants to attack the defense, the system, the terminology, it's hard to say the big differences right now."
In 2013, Cassel had one of his best seasons since his career-builder in 2008, his final year with the New England Patriots. In his first season with the Vikings, Cassel completed 60.2 percent of his passes and averaged 7.1 yards per attempt. Those were both his best since he left the Patriots following the 2008 season.
But there was plenty of uncertainty for Cassel, too. He came to Minnesota with the clear understanding that Christian Ponder was the starter. But by the fourth game of the season, Cassel was starting due to a Ponder injury, but that lasted only two games before the job was handed back to Ponder. After seven games of Ponder and Josh Freeman, Cassel was given the reins again for the final four games of the season.
"I don't think I always knew where I stood from week to week … there was always something going on and you never really knew until Coach would tell you what's going on," Cassel said. "You just prepare to the best of your ability and you sit there and hope you get a chance to get on the field, and at the end of the day I was able to get on the field and we were able to finish pretty strong and give myself another opportunity to come back."
Cassel said there were a number of reasons he decided to return to the Vikings. Zimmer was one of them. Turner was another. And the offensive personnel was a third.
He has been given no assurances he will be the starter in 2014, but Cassel is approaching it that way.
"That's my mentality, absolutely. I go in with the expectation to be the starter and that won't change," he said. "At the same time, you've got to go out there and prove it and compete. There's going to be two other quarterbacks, maybe three other quarterbacks, in here competing as well."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Turner, Cassel good union of scheme, skills
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