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Vikings-Chiefs Preview: Cassel returns to Arrowhead

Head coach Mike Zimmer named Matt Cassel the starting quarterback for the third preseason game against the Chiefs in Kansas City on Aug. 23. We’re not sure when Cassel last walked into Arrowhead Stadium, but we know he was the right choice for the starting job, as he should be properly motivated upon his return.
Image courtesy of Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Cassel had four tumultuous years as the Chiefs’ signal caller. He had one decent season (27 touchdown passes versus seven picks in 2010), but during his final season in 2102 he was carried off the field with a head injury to the cheers of some hometown fans—which is something you don’t quickly forget.

With two years still remaining on his contract, Cassel was released and then signed with the Vikings in 2013. Despite this Saturday’s game being merely an exhibition, Cassel may have some unfinished business in Kansas City.

The Chiefs signing of quarterback Alex Smith precipitated Cassel’s release, and Smith remains the starter in Kansas City, having led the Chiefs to an 11-5 record last season. Smith will have receiver Dwayne Bowe in the lineup (even though he will miss the first regular season game due to a suspension), and he has appeared motivated in preseason as well.

Bowe is looking for a bounce-back season (after a down season last year) and he will be trying to get everything he can out of the preseason action before he has to cool his heels opening weekend. In a recent interview, Smith didn’t demonstrate that same sense of urgency for this third preseason game.

“Score some touchdowns and win the game,” he told kcchiefs.com of the team’s goals for the game. “You’d love to go out there and have success every single play—and that’s our goal. That’s what we’re striving for. Is that the reality always? No. As an offense, it’s our job to move the ball and put points on the board. Last week we struggled in the red zone for a lot of different reasons. This week it would be nice to capitalize on some of those drives.”

More importantly, perhaps, is the question of whether or not Chiefs running back Jamal Charles will play. Charles did not play in the team’s second preseason game after injuring his foot carrying a box out of his dorm at the end of training camp. On Wednesday, Chiefs coach Andy Reid said they are monitoring Charles closely, and on Thursday Charles returned to practice, running with the scout team.

“Jamal is making progress,” he said. “We’ll see how he does here in the next few days.”

It would be a good test for the Vikings run defense if Charles plays, as they have not yet faced a running back of his caliber in the preseason. Of course, the Vikings aren’t planning to play Adrian Peterson, so the Chiefs will also be very cautious with a player that turns the engine of their offense.

Reid said his starters will play the first half and come out for the first series of the second half as a final tune-up, and the Vikings, whose first team played the entire first half last week, will likely do the same. Though with several questions to answer in the starting rotation, some Vikings starters could play even longer.

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said Robert Blanton, who he hasn’t seen much of this preseason, will get a long look at strong safety. The Vikings also need to determine what their starting rotation at linebackers will be for the regular season and the depth chart at the position is suddenly thin (as Gerald Hodges and Brandon Watts missed practice time this week with injuries). Chad Greenway tweaked the wrist he broke last season, so he may not see as much time in the game—giving way to second-year player Mike Mauti to get some first-team reps.

The wide receiver rotation will be worth watching with Jerome Simpson facing a potential three-game suspension (that he is appealing). Jarius Wright has been considered a replacement for Simpson, but his reps have been light thus far this preseason.

Also, receivers Adam Thielen and Rodney Smith have been locked in a battle for the fifth wideout spot with Thielen flashing early and Smith late (Smith caught the dramatic game winner last week). Given Simpson’s issues, both could make the 53-man roster until Simpson returns, but it will be interesting to follow the reps on Saturday.

Another exciting development for the Chiefs game could be the opportunity to see Cordarrelle Patterson line up for kickoff returns. Everyone knows his abilities there (two returns for touchdowns his rookie year), but the coaching staff has thus far kept him out of the rotation to keep him from harm’s way. But asked about the possibility, Zimmer was initially vague saying “he might [play],” but then was a little more revealing:

“We want our players to help us win football games anyway we can. We want to get the ball in those guys’ hands, so you’ll see Cordarrelle back there, yes.”

The Vikings will also need to determine their cornerback rotation, and heretofore injured Josh Robinson, after hearing a couple pointed comments about himself in the media from Zimmer, got back on the practice field this week. Robinson needs to demonstrate to his head coach that he deserves the third cornerback spot (behind Captain Munnerlyn and Xavier Rhodes), and that he can stay out of the trainer’s room. Going against a motivated Bowe from Kansas City will create a sink or swim scenario for Robinson.

At quarterback, expect another half-game for Cassel to build chemistry with the starters. Last week’s hero Teddy Bridgewater will likely get some time, but it may be limited, as the coaches hinted that Christian Ponder will see some time this week also. All indications thus far are that Ponder will remain a Viking, so getting him some game reps can’t hurt. He will get a lot more in the final preseason game next week.

Game plans are still basic, according to Kansas City’s Smith, but he did say that the Chiefs had more of a look at it than the first two weeks, as both teams typically use this game as a dress rehearsal for the regular season. For the Vikings, it is second good test against a playoff team from a year ago, and a good gauge for where they are at under a new coaching staff and new system.

And for Cassel, it may be just be a little more.


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