Matt Cassel showed his savvy over the weekend during the Chiefs three-day mini-camp that finished up Sunday morning.
It wasn’t anything he did on the field. It’s what he said, or more correctly what he didn’t say when he met with the media on Saturday.
“Do you have a favorite BBQ yet?” Cassel was asked.
“I know there’s a lot of … I don’t want to say anything,” Cassel said with a smile. “But I love BBQ.”
There’s no sense making a decision known in the KC BBQ Derby this early in his career. Better to build up a few victories and touchdown passes in the fan bank before actually getting involved in something nuclear like who has the best ribs or best sauce in town.
Cassel has shown he’s a quick learner and while the sum total of his NFL starting career is 15 games with a team that finished the last two regular seasons 27-5, he’s got a good hold on what’s necessary to be the guy who helps lead the Chiefs out of the dregs of pro football.
Todd Haley says the competition for starting jobs is ongoing at 22 positions. That may be true at 21 other spots, but if the season started today, there’s no question who would be taking the snaps with the No. 1 offense. In his first chance to be a college or NFL team’s chosen starter, Cassel has not spit the bit.
“Overall, I’m happy with his progress,” Haley said of Cassel. “Matt’s been here since Day 1. He’s the leader for every workout group. Now, there are some other guys leading also, but it’s clear it’s hard to out-work this guy. When he’s done working out he’s upstairs bugging us. He’s making drawings, coming up with ideas, wanting to talk football, all the time on top of working out real hard.
“He’s lost some weight, has his body in shape. Now, once you get into football things it’s translating over. You’re seeing the complete package.”
The Chiefs have allowed media visitors to eight of their practice sessions so far and there’s improvement in Cassel’s working relationship with his receivers, although to call the team’s passing offense a well-oiled machine right now would not be accurate. During the mini-camp practices, there were times when the offense struggled to make plays through the air. The connection between Cassel and receivers has improved, but there’s plenty of room to grow.
“That doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time and it takes a lot of throws between the quarterback and receivers,” said veteran WR Bobby Engram. “But those throws are being made and we are getting better.”
It helps Cassel that he’s getting the multiple reps with the first unit that come with being the No. 1 quarterback. Again, Haley says the job is not his, but practice sure runs like it is.
“You get the opportunity to get the first team reps and start building that relationship with the receiver,” said Cassel. “Any time you are a backup quarterback and have to step into that role … it took me a little time last year to get on the same page with those guys because you just don’t get the reps.
“This time of year is so valuable to be out there and be with the No. 1s and be able to get those reps, to go against the No. 1 defense.”
Cassel showed a little spark this weekend when he was questioned about whether his play last year was a product of his talent, or the Patriots system and the talent that team has at wide receiver.
“There’s no doubt they have a great system and they have some great players in place,” said Cassel. “Any time you look around the league and see the guys with the best stats, whether it’s Kurt Warner or Peyton Manning, they have an outstanding supporting cast. If you take away Larry Fitzgerald, (Anquan) Boldin and these guys, they can ask the same thing.
“I know I can play. If you turn on the film from last year and watch any of those games, you’ll know it was not just those guys making plays. I’m going through my reads. I’m making the throws and doing what I need to do to have success.
“Can you replicate it? We have some guys here that can play. There’s no doubt about that. We are working for success. I can’t tell you what the future holds, but I can tell you we’ve got some good players here that can definitely step up and make big time plays.”
PLAYERS OF NOTE FROM THE THREE-DAY MINI-CAMP
There hasn’t been much in the way of public comment from the Chiefs about their players since Pioli/Haley took control of the building. But as the days wear on, Haley is more willing to share information and he pointed out a few players for praise as the mini-camp wrapped up on Sunday.
First was LT Branden Albert (left).
“A guy that stood out to me is Branden Albert,” said Haley. “He’s a guy who came in way out of shape; that we were all pretty disappointed in. He kind of let himself go when the season ended and probably in-season a little bit.
“But the guy’s got his nose to the grindstone and he’s lost a lot of weight and is getting much stronger and practicing with technique. I’m pretty excited about what the possibilities are with Branden.”
Then, he talked about TE Brad Cottam.
“He seems to know what’s going on,” Haley said. “He’s working hard. He hasn’t missed a workout. He’s obviously big and I think that gives you positive and negatives. He fell down a couple of times today. He’s a guy who’s got to work on technique all the time being as tall as he is. But he’s a confident receiver and I think when the pads go on he’s got a chance to be a pretty good blocker.”
And Haley talked about a couple of guys that can help on special teams.
“We got a big back in Jackie Battle whose fast … he should be a heck of a special teamer,” he said. “Or one of our young free agents Jovan Belcher is another guy, a run and hit guy who looks like when the pads go on and you start covering kicks he could make an impact.”
WHY DONALD WASHINGTON WASN’T AT MINI-CAMP
There’s plenty of misinformation floating around about why fourth-round draft choice Donald Washington could not take part in the mini-camp or any of the off-season work to date.
Some outlets have reported it’s an “NCAA rule” that’s kept him away. That’s simply not true. Once a player declares for the NFL Draft and the league approves his declaration, the NCAA has no control whatsoever on the player or what he does. Plus, the rule works the same for players who have used up their eligibility, not just players leaving school early like Washington.
The rule that kept Washington away is an NFL rule, one that was instituted by the league as a way to mollify the college football coaches. The college guys were worried that once players were drafted they would no longer be around school and finish up their spring term studies. This is a factor even more these days because graduation rates can affect a program and the number of available scholarships.
So the rule was put in to encourage players to stay on campus and finish the spring term. It generally only hurts those players who come out of schools that run on the quarter system. Washington is actually going to graduate from Ohio State (he’s been there four years), but he can’t come back and start working with the Chiefs as soon as classes are over.
Washington’s teammate with the Buckeyes, CBÂ Malcom Jenkins found away to get to the New Orleans Saints mini-camp.Â He was able to take his finals early, getting them done this past week, including one on Friday.Â He jumped on a plane and was in New Orleans by late Friday evening.Â That got him on the field for practice on Saturday and Sunday.
The rule these days has probably outlived its usefulness. Most players once they finish their eligibility or declare for the draft, head off to various workout centers around the country arranged by their agents. There they prepare for the NFL Combine and team workouts.
But don’t expect the NFL to get rid of the rule; they want to make sure they keep relations with their “developmental league” on good standing.