Coach Leslie Frazier finally said what everyone has been expecting him to say since Matt Cassel led the Vikings to a turnover-free 34-27 victory over the Steelers in London back on Sept. 29:
"Matt Cassel is going to be our starting quarterback on Sunday."
There, it's official. But it wasn't an easy decision. Naming Cassel the starter ahead of a now-healthy Christian Ponder along with signing former Bucs QB Josh Freeman on Monday has serious ramifications for the future of a guy who three weeks ago was still considered the team's quarterback of the future.
"I think it's always tough when you make a change at quarterback," Frazier said. "You have to take a lot of factors into it when you’re doing that. You don’t make those decisions lightly and we didn’t. We’ll see how it plays out. But this is the start of this ballgame. We’ll see how Matt does. But we’ll see how it plays out over time.”
Ponder, who missed the Steelers game because of a fractured rib, will back Cassel up on Sunday against the Panthers at Mall of America Field. As for Freeman, Frazier said, "we have not decided at this point what we’re going to do with Josh. We don’t see him being able to play this ballgame yet, based on where we are and where he is with our offense.” In that case, Freeman would be a game-day inactive.
As for what happens next week, Frazier said that will take care of itself next week. Obviously, if the Vikings win and Cassel moves the offense with the same rhythm that he did in London, well, it will be difficult to remove him. Of course, the Vikings didn't bring Freeman in to stand on the sideline for 12 weeks either.
“I think we need to sit back on Monday after the game and evaluate things and see where we are," Frazier said. "See how it goes.”
The Vikings next game after Sunday is Oct. 21 at the Giants. Asked if Freeman would be able to play in that game, Frazier said, "Probably have to look at some things next week to make that determination. I’m not sure, even as we speak, if that would be the case. But we’ll evaluate it when we come back next week.”
Cassel said he was anticipating that would start and was preparing as if he would. But he said he didn't know for sure until this morning.
"You never know in this league," Cassel said. "I wouldn't have guessed on Monday we'd have another quarterback in the room as well. You never know what's going to happen. But at the same time it's always about getting myself prepared and being accountable to my teammates, getting ready to go."
Cassel said he's not looking beyond Sunday's game.
"It's just one more opportunity," he said. "[Against Pittsburgh], we took a great approach and the guys came out and responded well. We all responded well. We played well as a team and hopefully we can build off that. For us it's always a one-game season right now to get ourselves back in to this race."
Cassel did allow himself a second to enjoy the moment.
"It's exciting," he said. "That's why you come out here and you compete through OTAs and minicamp and all that stuff."
In other news:
- Kicker Blair Walsh, who experienced tightness in his left hamstring while practicing kickoffs on Thursday, is listed as questionable for Sunday's game. Frazier, however, said the team expects him to play. "We’re going to list him as questionable just because of that tightness and not sure how he’s going to be," Frazier said. "We need to see some things before the game, but he should be able to go. Just to err on the side of caution, we’re going to list him as questionable for the game.” If Walsh were unable to play, punter Jeff Locke could handle kickoffs and place-kicking. The team also has a short list of kickers they could sign if it turns out Saturday that Walsh wasn't able to play.
- CB Chris Cook (groin), SS Jamarca Sanford (hamstring), TE Rhett Ellison (knee) and DT Kevin Williams (knee) were all on the injury report but are expected to play. WR Joe Webb, who missed Thursday's practice because of an illness, was back today.