Even after signing a two-year, $10.5 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings that included $5.65 million in guarantees, Matt Cassel was still looking for an edge.
After participating fully in the Vikings’ offseason program and getting immersed in a new offense under coordinator Norv Turner, Cassel returned to Southern California and turned his attention to a coach who made his mark in a different sport.
After the Vikings’ minicamp ended in mid-June, Cassel began working with former Texas Rangers pitching coach Tom House. House had also coached with the Houston Astros and San Diego Padres after an eight-year career as a pitcher.
“I’ve worked with him before. It’s more something where you go out there and you’re always trying to find an edge or work on something,” Cassel said. “One of the things for me was trying to work on some shoulder-strengthening exercises and that’s kind of what I went out there to do.”
In addition to working with former pitchers like Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson and Orel Hershiser, House has also helped the NFL careers of Tom Brady and Drew Brees, among others.
“He worked with a baseball pitching coach in some of the motions and things like that,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “… He’s come in and he’s done great.”
Cassel has had a solid training camp, but Friday night will be his first opportunity to put into motion what he has gleaned about Turner’s offense.
“I’d like to play as much as I possibly can. I think preseason is invaluable in terms of getting that experience that you can get for the regular season. You’re that much more prepared,” Cassel said.
This will be Cassel’s 10th season in the NFL, but it’s the first time he has worked in the numbers system that Turner runs. That’s been an adjustment, but he said he and Turner have had a good working relationship.
Cassel said Turner will take his input and “then either tell me to be quiet or I like that a lot.”
“Norv’s been great with him. Sometimes you have to tell Matt, you have to remind him that we’ve been doing this a long time, even though he’s been doing this a long time. Sometimes you have to do that,” Zimmer said. “But he’s great about it. Say, ‘Hey, throw the ball here and that’s it. Do this or do that.’ But he’s good. He’s been very good. He’s been very diligent about his work. He worked real hard in the offseason.”
Last year under then-head coach Leslie Frazier, it was made clear to Cassel and everyone else that Christian Ponder was the starter at the outset of the season. That lasted only three games, however.
Ponder was hurt and Cassel started the fourth and fifth games of the season before the Vikings turned to failed in-season acquisition Josh Freeman, who lasted only one game before his starting opportunity was pulled. The Vikings returned to Ponder for six games before once again giving Cassel an opportunity in the last four games of the losing season.
Fast forward eight months and Cassel is atop the depth chart, with rookie Teddy Bridgewater second and Ponder last on the quarterback depth chart.
Despite being in the league nine years, Cassel said the first preseason game still holds excitement for him.
“No matter how old I get, that first preseason game brings the jitters,” he said. “It brings the excitement of the season and you’re finally playing a new opponent. Especially when you get into that first preseason game, you don’t know what to expect so it’s kind of fun to get that feeling again.”
Friday night, the Vikings’ preseason begins against the Oakland Raiders. Despite the general consensus that teams play it close to the play-calling vest early in the preseason, Cassel said some teams will actually try out more blitzes in the preseason and he will go back and watch previous preseason games to get a gauge on that.
Fortunately, he has been leaning on the defensive-minded Zimmer to lend a different perspective.
“Coach Zimmer gives great insight,” Cassel said, “especially from the defensive side of the ball and what they’re trying to get accomplished – different zone blitz schemes and where they’re more susceptible in certain coverages and that’s been really helpful because he’s been so hands-on with us.”
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Cassel turned to pitching coach in offseason
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