The story of Matt Cassel, backup quarterback to the stars, has been well documented. Now in the midst of his first full squad mini-camp as a starter, Cassel is growing into his new role.
Cassel has a team to call his own for the first time since high school. A team is finally counting on him not to follow, but to lead; not to hold the clipboard, but to help design plays to put on it. Although coach Todd Haley refuses to name a starter at any position, Chiefs WR Bobby Engram has no question who the No. 1 QB is.
“He’s running the team and I’m very impressed. He’s a very sharp guy. He’s watching film, he’s drawing up plays, he’s coaching everybody up. He’s shown early on that we’re going to be able to rely on him.”
Another tip-off about who’s running the show is the fact that Cassel will be paid almost $15 million this year, barring a new long-term contract. so now he’s got all the money he could want, the chance to start he’s always wanted and Cassel is, by all accounts, a very happy man. When he was first presented to the Kansas City media, he shook hands and introduced himself to every reporter, broadcaster and photographer in the room.
Over the years there were times when Cassel did get discouraged. But now he believes even those times are going to work to his advantage in Kansas City.
“You get toughened up. There’s going to be a lot of adversity that comes up during the season, whether we lose a game, whether it’s a tough play or an interception or something like that. You have to be able to overcome it and be mentally tough. You continue to be mentally tough and you continue to push through and know there’s a bright spot at the end of the tunnel.”
By most accounts, the offense — and Cassel specifically — had a tough day yesterday, though it’s hard to be too concerned about a practice in June. As I said yesterday, Cassel seems to be saying and doing all the right things as he gets ready to lead the Chiefs next season. It will be interesting to see how he responds to what will most certainly be much more adversity than he had to deal with while filling in for Tom Brady last season. Sure, he got hit a lot last season but when you win 10 games there isn’t much adversity to fight through. By my early calculations the Chiefs are looking at 4-6 wins this year and for the first time in his life, Matt Cassel will have to stand up and be the leader of a team fighting to keep their head above water.
After all of the questions surrounding Chiefs RB Larry Johnson during the offseason, he has been mostly overshadowed during the OTAs by the Brian Waters saga. Kent Babb took to the Red Zone Blog to ask what the problem is with Johnson, why has he been almost invisible?
Johnson was a burden last year — and a loud burden at that. But one thing has been noticeable about Johnson during offseason practices and this weekend’s mini-camp: He hasn’t been noticeable. He’s not telling loud jokes like he was at training camp last year. He’s not complaining about playing time or how a teammate or coach looked at him in the hallway. Nothing.
A reporter asked Johnson on Saturday if he’d participate in an interview. Johnson politely declined, same as he did a month ago. He never has seemed to enjoy speaking with the media, which is fine, but his response to past requests usually went one of two ways: Either LJ would release a profanity-laced, and often nonsensical tirade toward the reporter, or he’d just never show up in the locker room. Now, Johnson strolls in, does his thing and walks back out. He chats with teammates and goes about his business peacefully.
Maybe Larry Johnson has finally grown up. It would be a good thing for LJ and the Chiefs if he keeps up the good work. More than anybody would like to admit, Johnson and the Chiefs need each other. But the Chiefs need him only if this new LJ is the one they get for the long haul.
I never thought Larry Johnson would make it to any of the OTAs as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. I thought he would be one of the first cuts by Scott Pioli and Todd Haley as they tried to trim the franchise of the dead weight that contributed to the culture of losing over the past three years. I thought after he skipped out on a practice to go drink in Las Vegas I assumed the other shoe had finally dropped and we’d finally see Johnson get the boot. But so far i have been proven wrong. And for the sake of the team I hope he continues to prove me wrong. If Johnson is going to be successful in Kansas City again he can’t just behave himself until he makes the team, gets his contract guaranteed and then go back to the old LJ. That’s the worst case scenario for everyone involved and unfortunately I can’t stop myself for thinking that’s where this story will end.
Following the Chiefs final OTA session on June 18th, Matt Cassel will head to Florida and take to the field for a charity 7-0n-7 competition.
The fourth annual Heath Evans Foundation 7-on-7 Championship is an invitation-only, 16 team tournament scheduled for Saturday, June 20 at 9am at The King’s Academy in Royal Palm Beach, Florida.
Amonth the players expected to attend include Matt Cassel, Randy Moss, Vince Wilfork, Wes Welker and Jabar Gaffney.
A new twist this year is a “Beat the Pros Challenge” giving fans and high school players a chance to test their skills against the NFL players attending. Raffle tickets will be sold at the even and two fans will be chosen for each skill competition. Two high school players will also participate in each even, which includes a 40-yard dash, catching punts from a JUGGS machine and passing accuracy.
Proceeds from this tournament will benefit the 501(c)(3) not-for-profit Heath Evans Foundation, which is dedicated to fostering hope and healing in the lives of children and families affected by sexual abuse.
I hope the passing accuracy competition between Cassel and the high school kids makes it’s way to YouTube. There are countless charity events featuring NFL players, but this is the only one I can remember seeing where anyone off the street will get to compete against the pros. Think of it as a laid back version of “Pros vs. Joes”.