Hartman: Cassel ready to help, challenge Ponder

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 26, 2013 - 7:38 AM

The Vikings’ new backup quarterback is enthusiastic about his role and preparing to play if he’s needed.

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Vikings OTA's organized team activities. Vikings qurterbacks Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder go through the motions at practice.

The Vikings’ quarterback situation could be interesting this season, with the club having a solid backup in Matt Cassel. If Christian Ponder doesn’t produce, the fans will be clamoring for a change, as they always do.

It’s not like last season when the backup was Joe Webb, who is now playing wide receiver and certainly didn’t have Cassel’s quarterbacking experience.

The eyes of the fans visiting training camp in Mankato will certainly be on the newly signed backup.

Recently I visited with Cassel and he talked about how excited he is to be with the Vikings.

“The team has embraced me,” he said. “We have a wonderful group of guys. We’ve all been out there working hard and the coaching staff has been outstanding. Right now I’m just trying to get acclimated and learn the system and have fun doing it.”

Cassel had to be surprised when Kansas City let him go March 14. He signed the same day with the Vikings.

“That’s sometimes how it goes,” said Cassel, who went 19-28 in four seasons with the Chiefs. He led Kansas City into the playoffs in 2010, going 10-5 in 15 starts, and was named to the Pro Bowl. “We didn’t win enough football games and I know that’s part of the business. I wish them the best of luck. I had a great time there, my children were born there. I had a good experience. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get it done on the football field, but hopefully that changes here in Minnesota.”

Cassel’s first break in the NFL came with New England in 2008 when quarterback Tom Brady was hurt in the first game of the season. Cassel became the starter and led the team to a 10-5 record, throwing for 3,693 yards and 21 touchdowns.

“It was an unbelievable year because it was completely unexpected,” Cassel said. “We came off that year of going 18-1 [in 2007] and then Tommy went down in the first game. Normally any time I saw Tom ever get hit he was always getting up, and unfortunately he didn’t get up that time. But it gave me the opportunity to go in and prove that I could play and it was quite a year for us.”

Kansas City was looking for a quarterback and gave up a second-round pick to get Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel in February 2009. The Patriots had given their franchise tag to Cassel following the 2008 season.

Met Ponder before

Cassel and Ponder met before Cassel signed with the Vikings.

“I’ve known Christian, I met him the previous offseason before I was here,” Cassel said. “He’s a great guy and a heck of a quarterback and I’m happy to be working with him.”

How hard will it be for Cassel to be a backup when he has been a starter for the past four seasons?

“It’s a role I’ve been in before,” Cassel said. “And no matter whether I’m a backup or a starter in this league, I’ve done my best to be the same guy. My routine is the same: Compete and at the same time prepare, and you always have to be prepared to go into the game at the drop of a hat.

“I’ll try to [help Ponder]. He’s a young player that continues to get better each and every game he plays and he’s an exciting player. He can throw the ball and he also has the ability to run the ball really well. It has been fun to play with him and build that relationship, and it will be a fun time to work with him this year.”

Twins stars struggle

This has been reported here before, but while the Twins have posted a 43-55 record through 98 games this year — a slight improvement from their 40-58 mark from last year — one of the big reasons the team hasn’t been able to show greater improvement and consistency is because three of the better players aren’t performing as well as a year ago.

Scott Diamond is 5-9 through 18 starts this year, meaning he has lost as many games this season as he did all of last year, when he went 12-9 in 27 starts. His ERA has jumped nearly two runs from 3.54 in 2012 to 5.53 this year.

Ryan Doumit’s batting average has dropped nearly 40 points, from .275 in 2012 to .237 this year. He’s hit nine home runs in 87 games this year compared to a career-high 18 in 134 games last season. He also has only 42 RBI, meaning he’s on pace for 11 fewer RBI in 2013.

Josh Willingham, who is on the disabled list because of a torn meniscus, is hitting only .224 this season with 10 home runs, 37 RBI and 32 runs scored. Last year Willingham hit .260 with career highs in home runs (35), RBI (110) and runs scored (85).

The Twins are playing better of late, having won three series in a row for the first time this season, but they could really have shown improvement if their former stars had maintained their production.

Jottings

• Vikings coach Leslie Frazier on the offensive line: “It’s going to be one of our strengths, for sure. We have a left tackle in Matt Kalil who we have high hopes for, going to the Pro Bowl his rookie season. Then getting a healthy [center] John Sullivan back, and [right tackle] Phil Loadholt, the way he’s progressed, that’s big. Then we need our guards to step up and really play well — Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco — I mean they really have to step up. And if that’s the case, you’re probably right, that’s going to be one of the strengths of our football team without question.”

• Two of the Gophers’ top football centers probably won’t play this year. Zach Mottla, who broke his leg in the 17-3 victory last season over Illinois, recently had further surgery on the leg and has decided to give up football. Brian Bobek, who transferred to Minnesota from Ohio State last year and was eligible to play this year, has been ill and this might keep him out of action this season. The team still has redshirt sophomore Jon Christenson, who started every game last season at different spots on the offensive line and ended the year at center.

• Amir Coffey of Hopkins, the son of former Gophers basketball player Richard Coffey, fractured a bone in his leg Sunday and is out of action until this fall. The 6-5 wing in the Class of 2016 is being recruited by Minnesota and nationally by other schools. … Among the many outstanding high school basketball players being recruited hard nationally is Lakeville North shooting guard J.P. Macura, who recently was offered a scholarship by the University of Miami. … GopherIllustrated.com reports that Apple Valley, with point guard Tyus Jones, will play Whitney Young High School out of Chicago, which has 6-10 center Jahlil Okafor. Okafor is the No. 1 recruit in the country and plans to attend the same college as Jones. The game will be at Apple Valley on Dec. 12.

 

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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