The last time Matt Cassel stepped inside Arrowhead Stadium, banners were flying overhead asking for him to be benched. He’d been booed at a celebrity softball game and become a scapegoat for an entire organization that had fallen on hard times.
Two years later, the former Chiefs quarterback has the inside track on the starting job for the Minnesota Vikings, who visit Kansas City for a preseason game Saturday night.
“I’ve moved on. They’ve moved on,” Cassel said ahead of his return. “I’ve got a lot of family friends out there. I actually still have a home there. The truth of the matter is, I have no ill will.”
Few people would blame Cassel if he did.
After arriving in a trade from New England, he helped lead a moribund franchise back to the playoffs. But a carousel of head coaches and offensive coordinators hurt his chances of succeeding, and a new regime spelled the end for him. The Chiefs acquired Alex Smith from San Francisco last offseason, and Cassel was sent packing despite having two years left on his contract.
He landed in Minnesota, where he helped to stabilize things when Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman fizzled out. And after the season, Cassel signed a two-year deal to stay put.
His starting job has been hardly guaranteed, though, especially after the Vikings drafted Teddy Bridgewater in the first round. But after playing well this preseason, Cassel will start for the third straight time on Saturday night in Kansas City, and the expectation is that the veteran will be under center when the Vikings open their season Sept. 7 in St. Louis.
“I’m going to continue to prepare and do what I need to do to get ready for the season,” Cassel said. “When the time comes and coach tells us, we’ll have to deal with it.”
Bridgewater has done his best to diffuse any potential tension.
“It’s supposed to be a competition with the quarterbacks in the room. But for me, I’ve been the young guy in the room and those guys have been great mentors,” he said. “I’ve heard that usually the young guy has to learn on his own, but that’s not the case here.”
The third preseason game is often a dress rehearsal for the regular season, and Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and Chiefs counterpart Andy Reid said they will play their starters into the third quarter. But there could be plenty of star power sitting out.
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who has not played in the first two preseason games, missed practice Wednesday and Thursday for what the team called personal reasons. He’s expected to make the trip to Kansas City, but it is unlikely Zimmer will put him on the field.
“I’ll see what he decides to do,” Peterson said. “I’ll leave it up to him.”
Zimmer said it is possible Peterson won’t play in any preseason games.
“Adrian and I have talked about it a little bit. I don’t really see the need,” he said. “He’s doing a great job of the protections and the routes and all that, and obviously he runs really good. The only concern you have is that he might not have been hit enough.”
Those are some of the same concerns that surround Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles, who sat out last weekend’s game against Carolina after hurting his foot in an off-the-field incident. He was back at practice for the first time Thursday but is unlikely to play Saturday night.
Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry has been dealing with a heel injury, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe missed the entire week of practice with a quad injury and linebacker Joe Mays is expected to be out for a while because of a significant wrist injury.
None of them are expected to be available for Kansas City.
“Listen, I don’t care about all that. Next guy is in and we roll,” Reid said. “It’s simple that way. If you can play, you can play, and if you can’t, you can’t.”
The first round of roster cuts are due Tuesday, so the game will be critical for guys trying to earn a job deeper on the depth chart. The Vikings are still sorting out their defensive backfield, and the Chiefs have a slew of openings on both sides of the ball.
“The way we’ve set it up, we’ve treated this week as a game week the way we’re working through it,” Smith said. “It is a next step in the progression, certainly.”
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Once booed in K.C., Cassel has ‘no ill will’
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