A familiar face who hasn’t been seen much around the Minnesota Vikings locker room made an appearance Wednesday, as quarterback Matt Cassel, complete with a scooter to elevate his injured foot, wheeled his way through Winter Park Wednesday.
It was the first chance most of the local media have had to talk to Cassel since he had surgery to repair broken bones in his foot and, as expected, he said it’s been a long, painful road, both in terms of rehabbing the injury and being forced to watch his teammates prepare for games knowing he can’t be part of it.
“It’s hard,” Cassel said. “Any time you get something taken away, and especially your job, it’s always difficult. But, at the same time, I’m staying involved, I’m coming in every single day, I’ve been in meetings every single day and that part’s kept my morale high and I spent a little extra time with the family and that part’s been great, but at the same time you definitely miss the competitiveness of being out there on a daily basis and also Sundays.”
Cassel still has two wires that were surgically implanted in his foot to stabilize the bones that will need to stay in a couple more weeks. The wires are actually sticking out of the bottom of his foot, which makes getting around on crutches or his scooter a little dicey.
The bigger pain, however, is having his starting job taken away due to the injury. He had big plans for 2014 and was expected to keep rookie Teddy Bridgewater on the bench. Injuries have been unfamiliar to Cassel, who has been forced to take on the role more of an assistant coach than a player, which can be a little discouraging.
“Any time you have an injury and you’re out for a substantial amount of time, and especially since this is the longest I’ve been out at any time in my career, it’s always difficult at first,” Cassel said. “But, I think that you try to find different ways to still be involved. Any time I come in the room, I’m able to help out in different ways and watch film. I ask coaches for projects, whether it’s a red-zone review or stuff like that, just to contribute in some way. And also to help out Teddy and Christian (Ponder) in that room as much as I possibly can.”
Cassel’s current role with the team has been to serve as a mentor to Bridgewater, being an extra pair of veteran eyes that can point out the little things in defensive schemes, coverages and the routes his receivers are running. While it wasn’t the role he had planned, he’s making the most of being a good teammate as well as a teacher helping Bridgewater pick up the new offense.
“We talk about the game and we watch the game together, obviously,” Cassel said. “I’m in those meeting rooms. If I see something, whether it’s a certain route or a matchup that I think might be good, you always talk to him about that and make him aware of it. I think Teddy’s done a tremendous job in a difficult situation of stepping up. Last week was an outstanding performance by him, especially some of those big plays he made down the stretch, and I think that’s just something you’re going to see a lot of out of Teddy. I think he’s a tremendous player, and I think he’s still growing. He’s 21 years old, he’s a rookie, and he’s been shoved in the lineup, and he’s done a great job and I think he’s going to continue to get better.”
As a competitor who hasn’t had much of an injury history, watching the games like a fan rather than on the sidelines with his teammates has been a new experience and not one Cassel particularly enjoys. It slams home the message that he isn’t a part of the team like he used to be and, given the nature of how football is televised – always following the ball wherever it goes – it’s like watching the game with blinders on.
It’s been a long time since Cassel has watched his team play from a distance and it’s not always the fun experience most fans associate with watching the Vikings on Sundays.
“It is (tough),” Cassel said. “It’s tough from a fan’s point of view. Sometimes you don’t see it the same. They follow the quarterback, and sitting there you don’t always get to see the full play develop. At the same time, you watch it how you will and then you come in and I get another dose of it when I come in here on Monday. I’ll sit there and be like, ‘Yes, yes, yes, there you go.’ And then (Bridgewater) will go to the right place and I’m cheering for these guys all the time. There’s no one that wants to see them have more success than I do.”
The most difficult part for Cassel may be that while he was viewed as the quarterback of the present, Bridgewater is clearly seen as the quarterback of the future. Given Cassel’s injury, the future is now in terms of Bridgewater getting his feet wet and becoming a team leader on offense. When Cassel’s foot does heal and is 100 percent, it likely won’t be his job to lose anymore.
As someone who has been on both sides of that equation in New England, Kansas City and now Minnesota, Cassel understands that such promotions and demotions are part of the job description, and whether Bridgewater becomes the man under center moving forward, Cassel is just waiting to see what decisions get made and will move accordingly.
“It’s part of the business,” Cassel said. “We’ll cross that road when I get there. At this point, my main concern is getting healthy and then once that happens, I’ll go out and do what I’ve always done, which is work tremendously hard and hopefully put myself in a position to get back on the field at some point.”
Cassel finds view from afar ‘hard’
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