Cassel confident as Brady's backup
Career clipboard holder ready for move up Pats' depth chart
By DAVID BROWN, Standard-Times staff writer
June 14, 2006
FOXBORO — Matt Cassel is often preparing for a job that no one wants him to do.
Warming the bench for three Heisman Trophy winners and a two-time Super Bowl MVP, it's hard to imagine that any football player has been more relied upon to sit than Cassel has over the past five years.
A perpetual understudy, the quarterback warmed pine for Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart at USC, then spent his rookie year with the Patriots saddled behind Tom Brady and Doug Flutie. To this point in his career, any long-term foray onto a field would have come in the aftermath of disaster.
To the delight of the Patriots and Trojans faithful, Cassel's combined college and professional passing record covers just 55 attempts of which he has completed 33. The fact that he has no significant game experience means his teams have kept their starters upright, but it also leaves the Patriots with an unknown quantity should Brady go down.
Flutie's retirement last month made Cassel the presumptive No. 2 on the quarterback depth chart in front of rookies Corey Bramlet (Wyoming) and Todd Mortensen (San Diego). But is he ready to take over if Brady can't go?
"I don't know," Bill Belichick said after yesterday's minicamp practice, hinting the backup post may be up for grabs in the pre-season. "Whoever the best players are, that's how it will go. The best player is in first and he plays the most. The next best player, second. The next best player, third. I don't know how that's going to turn out. I don't have any control over that. It's all decided on the field and that goes for every position."
Cassel said he's ready to step into the role of top substitute.
"Definitely," Cassel said yesterday. "I was the No. 3 quarterback (last year), so I don't think the coaches thought I was ready to go, and so hopefully this year I'm able to put myself in the position where I'm ready to make that jump."
If Cassel has an advantage over the newbies, it's a year of studying the Pats' offense. Belichick has talked about a big leap that players make from the first to their second season in terms of understanding the system. Cassel said he's made that leap.
"It's your second year, you come in you're a lot more comfortable with the system," Cassel said. "There's obviously a lot of things to work on, but it's just another year now in a system. Anything you do over a period of time, you become more comfortable with."
Belichick agrees that time has been good to Cassel.
"I think he's way ahead of where he was last year," the coach said. "He's working hard, making some progress. We'll see how it goes in the preseason, training camp, when it's real football. But again, there's a lot of teaching going on here. He's a smart kid. He learns things well. He picks up information pretty quickly. You don't have to keep repeating the same thing over and over again. He understands that. He has good comprehension. But when things start happening for real with pads on and a faster pace, the defense is doing different things and all that, we'll be able to measure that."
See more at South Coast Today
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