Matt Cassel has been through this time and again. A new year, a new system, even if the team remains the same.
This year will mark the seventh coordinator in the last six years of Cassel's career. If thought he had seen it all, he found out over the last month that isn't true. Out with Bill Musgrave. In with Norv Turner, whose offense is new to Cassel for a couple of reasons.
"Every day is a surprise when you open up that book and look at the new install. You're going, ‘Oh, OK. Yeah, this is nice,'" Cassel said earlier this month after getting involved with Turner hands-on once that part of the offseason went into motion. "I can't say there are any surprises, it's just football. For us, it's just us learning it and how they want to read certain progressions. How they want to go through certain reads, what are our checks? Once you learn those little nuances, it makes you play that much quicker."
Cassel said he started investigating Turner's offenses from the past once the veteran quarterback re-signed with the Minnesota Vikings. He initially opted out of the final year of the two-year deal he signed in March 2013, but his hope was that he could get more guaranteed money in a re-worked deal with the Vikings.
After opting out in February and re-signing in March before the start of free agency, he started hitting up his contacts around the league that had experience with Turner's system.
"When I signed back with the Vikings and I knew Coach Turner was going to be my coach, I reached out to guys that played with the Cleveland Browns – (Brian) Hoyer, who I've known from New England and stuff like that – and was able to talk to him a little bit about the system to get started," Cassel said.
"Of all the systems I've run, there is always some carryover. Conceptually, of all the systems I've run, I've never been in a numbers system before. That's a little bit different for me, but it's just putting in the time and effort and studying to really start recognizing it and recognizing concepts and schemes."
Last year was the first time since his breakout season with the New England Patriots in 2008 that Cassel had a completion percentage above 60 (he was at 60.2 in 2013) and an average-per-attempt above 7 yards (he was at 7.1).
A new two-year, $10.5 million contract would also seem to indicate he was ready to continue as the starter. But, as Cassel has come to learn, nothing is ever guaranteed for NFL quarterbacks who aren't among the elite.
Since signing that contract, the Vikings drafted Teddy Bridgewater with the final pick in the first round of the draft.
"This is a new coaching staff. It's a new regime. You never know what's going to happen. You have to come out and earn it," Cassel said before the draft, knowing that the selection of another quarterback to challenge him was a good possibility. "… You have to go out, perform, show them you know the system, that you're accountable and that you can run the offense and everything else will take care of itself."
Turner's success with veteran quarterbacks and the complexity of his system – a fact that was testified about by numerous players after their first work with Turner earlier this month – would seem to indicate Cassel would be the favorite over a rookie. That's likely true, but Bridgewater comes with a successful career at Louisville behind him and the reputation as a diligent, intelligent learner.
Cassel will battle to keep his starter status, but he is looking forward to getting to know Turner's system even better. He said he was "jittery" before the team's veteran minicamp prior to the draft and felt like a rookie all over again.
"It's an exciting challenge because you know that the results are there when you look at Norv's résumé and you look at the success that quarterbacks have had with him. It excites you as a quarterback. It encourages you," Cassel said.
"Everything gets me excited about it – his demeanor, how he coaches. … He coaches you hard and that's what you love as a player. There's always room to grow, there's always room to improve, and if somebody holds you accountable as a player and gets after you and doesn't let anything slip, it's going to make you better. I'm excited about that and I think everybody is."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Cassel on Turner: ‘Yeah, this is nice'
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