Matt Cassel has seen a lot in 10 years in the NFL, including by his count seven different offensive coordinators in his last six seasons in the league.
So when Cassel re-signed with the Minnesota Vikings in the offseason and started to digest Norv Turner’s new system, he knew he’d have to work harder and study longer than he ever had before to win the starting job.
Cassel was named the starting quarterback over first-round draft pick Teddy Bridgewater on Monday for the regular season opener against the St. Louis Rams, an achievement that resonated with a player who has evolved from no-name rookie to backup sensation to embattled starter and then to a journeyman veteran scratching and clawing to get another shot.
“I’ve been through a lot in my career,” Cassel said. “I’ve been through the ups, I’ve been through the downs. I’ve been through the highs and the lows. At this point nothing really surprises me in my career. Because of those (experiences), it callouses you to a few different situations that as a younger player I might not have taken it as well.”
One of those situations happened last year in Minnesota, when Cassel outplayed Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman during the season, but wound up starting only six games during a miserable 5-10-1 season. The Vikings fired coach Leslie Frazier and the rest of the staff after the season, hired Mike Zimmer and Turner to turn things around, and brought Cassel back to bring some stability to the position.
Cassel has been sharp while starting all three preseason games. He has completed more than 66 percent of his passes for 367 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
“Matt did not do anything to lose the job this preseason,” Zimmer said. “I think he’s played great. The team has a lot of confidence in him. They feel good about his veteran leadership and presence.”
The Vikings traded back into the first round on draft night to get Bridgewater with the 32nd pick and have pegged him as the long-term answer for the team’s unsettled quarterback spot. After an understandably up-and-down preseason opener, Bridgewater has played well in the last two games. In all three games, Bridgewater is 26 of 40 for 266 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions while getting most of his action with the backups and has impressed with his unflappable demeanor and low-key presence.
“I told Teddy this morning that I’m so happy he’s here with us,” Zimmer said. “I’m glad he’s the guy we picked. I’ve loved everything that he’s done. It wasn’t anything that Teddy did or didn’t do. Teddy will be, still in my estimation, a great player for this franchise for years to come.”
Bridgewater took the news in stride, saying he was looking forward to learning from Cassel, continuing to refine his understanding of the offense while staying ready if he’s needed at any point this season.
“When camp first started, I just wanted to learn as much as I could and try to get better each and every day, try not to make the same mistakes twice,” Bridgewater said. “So I take my hat off to Matt. He’s been playing great this preseason. I’m just going to continue to learn under him.”
In his first season as a head coach, Zimmer was asked if Cassel was his starter for the entire season or if there was a chance for Bridgewater to see time at some point in his rookie year.
“We will hold the quarterback position to the exact same expectations as we do every other position. If you perform, you play. If you don’t perform, then the next guy will get an opportunity at some point. And when we decide to do that, we sit down and discuss it.
“That position, just like the outside linebacker spot, we have an expectation of performance and as long as those guys perform, they play.”
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