Cassel Announced As Week 1 Starter
Image courtesy of Denny Medley-USA TODAY SportsBut it may be disappointing to many fans hoping for Teddy Bridgewater to get the nod.
“Matt did not do anything to lose the job this preseason,” Zimmer said. “I think he’s played great. I think the team has a lot of confidence in him. They feel good about the veteran leadership and presence, and I had to think about the whole football team. It wasn’t just about the quarterbacks. It’s not always the best player at that position — and I’m not saying that Matt’s not. It’s all about how everything works together. And at this stage, where we’re at right now, it’s the best thing to do.”
Cassel's numbers bear out the decision. Through three games in which he played the equivalent time of a game and two series, Cassel has been sharp and in command of offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s offense. He has completed 26 of 39 passes for 367 yards, two touchdown passes and one interception—for an average quarterback rating of 104.5. Cassel also ran the ball four times for 34 yards.
While he didn’t play the entire game each contest, he played predominantly against the opponent’s first-time defense and led his squad to a 3-0 record. He is coming off a 2013 season in which started the final four games for Minnesota and was the most productive signal caller the entire season.
His competition for the job this season included rookie Teddy Bridgewater and Christian Ponder (although Ponder never really entered into the equation), and Bridgewater improved each game--enough to keep Cassel on point in the competition.
But Bridgewater competed primarily against the opponents’ reserves in games and had his best moments late in the contests. He pulled out a dramatic win against the Arizona Cardinals in game two and offered fans a glimpse of his talent and his ability to learn, adjust and improve, but he is still a work in progress, and the coaching staff is not anxious to thwart that development by rushing him into the lineup too soon.
It was not so much that Cassel beat out Bridgewater, it’s that it was Cassel's position to lose and Bridgewater didn’t unseat him. And that is how the Vikings coaching staff preferred it. They fostered the competition from the get-go but never gave any indication that the players’ statuses were changing, although they delayed the decision long enough to keep both players competing.
For the coaching staff, the decision was a bit of a no-brainer. While there is excitement in starting the rookie, there are also other issues to consider. Bridgewater has growing pains to experience and they can’t happen until he plays in regular season games against top-tier NFL competition. Perhaps watching for a while can help alleviate some.
The coaches, who are evaluating and directing a new team that is operating under a new system, will get a better handle of where the whole team is by starting a veteran quarterback with seasons of NFL experience. The coaches don’t need the additional strain of a young player—whose attitude and abilities are vital to the future of the team—learning on the job.
“I told Teddy this morning that I’m so happy that he’s here with us,” Zimmer said. “I’m glad he’s the guy we picked. I love 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.”
It’s important to remember, of course, Zimmer did not make his announcement by giving the media stone tablets with Cassel’s name etched into it. This can change at anytime.
“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, then somebody else will get an opportunity at some point,” Zimmer said. “That position, just like the outside linebacker spot, we have an expectation for performance. And as long as those guys perform, they’ll play.”
The point remains that if the team starts off 1-4 with a tough early-season schedule, look for Teddy time to begin in earnest in October.