Vikings name Cassel as starting QB
MINNEAPOLIS — Matt Cassel has won the Vikings starting quarterback job. Now, the fight is to keep it.
Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer, as expected, named Cassel on Monday the starter for the Sept. 7 regular-season opener at St. Louis. He had been battling rookie Teddy Bridgewater.
Bridgewater already has heard fans chant his name during preseason games, and they will clamor for the first-round pick out of Louisville if Cassel has a bad game, or even makes a bad play. With that backdrop, Zimmer made it clear Cassel will need to produce.
“We will hold the quarterback position to the exact same expectations as we do every other position,” Zimmer said. “If you perform, you play. If you don’t perform, then the next guy will get an opportunity at some point.’’
Cassel, a 10-year veteran, knows that’s how it goes in the NFL. It’s no wonder he said he’s still going about his business and “not celebrating” Monday’s announcement.
“You only can only control what you can control,” he said. “I know that’s cliché, but it’s the truth. If you start worrying about what everybody else’s opinions are about you, and you start worrying about, ‘Hey, if I do this wrong, then something is going to happen,’ you can’t play this game this way.”
OK, so Cassel did pause for a minute Monday and offer some appreciation at having won the job.
“I’ve worked tremendously hard this offseason to put myself in this position, and I’m excited that it’s gone the way it has,” he said. “I’ve played well in the preseason, and I’m really excited that coach is giving me the confidence and the trust to go along and name me the starter.”
It had been evident for a while that Zimmer, a first-year coach, would go with a veteran to start the season. Cassel has started all three preseason games after starting six games for the Vikings last season, including the final four. He signed a two-year $10 million last March to remain with the team.
“Matt didn’t 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.”
Heading into the preseason finale Thursday at Tennessee, assel has completed 26 of 39 attempts for 367 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Bridgewater is 26 of 40 for 266 yards with four TDs and no interceptions.
Zimmer reveal his quarterback plans for Thursday, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if Cassel sits out and Bridgewater and third-stringer Christian Ponder play.
“I take my hat off to Matt,” Bridgewater said of Monday’s announcement. “He’s been playing great this preseason. I just want to continue to learn under him. … He’s been great in just mentoring the guys in the room, so this was an overall team decision and I’m very excited for Matt.”
Minnesota’s offensive stars were expecting Cassel to open the season under center. Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson said after the second preseason game he feels “like he’s the starter.” Adrian Peterson had told the Pioneer Press on Sunday that Cassel “has the edge” because he’s “running the offense better right now.”
Wide receiver Jarius Wright said Monday the Vikings “can’t lose’’ regardless of who’s at quarterback. He said the team also still has confidence in Ponder, the primary starter the previous three seasons.
“We’ve seen what Teddy can do,” Wright said. “We’ve been seeing what Cassel has done his whole career, and Christian also can lead us to the playoffs. My rookie year (2012) he did.”
This is the second team for which Cassel will start an opener. He did so with Kansas City from 2009-12 before losing his job to Brady Quinn in his final year there.
Cassel got his first opportunity to start in 2008 with New England, when he took over after Tom Brady went down with a season-ending knee injury in the opener. As the backup, Bridgewater knows he must stay ready.
“I’ve got to continue to learn, but also to learn and prepare myself as a starter because as a backup, you’re one play away from being out there,” Bridgewater said.
Regardless of how it happens, Bridgewater at some point is expected to be the starter. Zimmer doesn’t shy away from saying that.
“Teddy will be still, in my estimation, a great player for this franchise for years to come,” the coach said.