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On July 30, I spoke with New England Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel after a training camp session outside Gillette Stadium. We mostly talked about life as a backup behind an NFL icon.
Circumstances certainly have changed since then. Tom Brady is done for the year, and Cassel this afternoon will make his first start at quarterback since high school. He'll face the New York Jets in the Meadowlands.
With an updated context, that interview with Cassel provides insight into his mental preparation for what has, in fact, gone down.
On the day of the interview, Brady didn't practice and was nowhere to be seen.
How does your day change when Tom Brady's not taking the first-team snaps?
Cassel: It's one of those things where it is what you make of it. I plan on being the backup quarterback, and I come out here every day and I get ready as if I'm the starter. Today was one of those days because Tom didn't go. So I took all the No. 1 snaps. It's good for me to get those snaps. Those are quality snaps you can't emulate as the No. 2 a lot of times.
I try to make it the same as if he was out there. I try and go out there and execute the offense. I've been in the offense now for four years. I'm pretty familiar with everything that's going on. I know all the players and where I want to go with the ball. If I can make it as similar as it is when he's out there, then that's good for me.
How do you deal with being stuck behind a legend?
Cassel: I work really hard and I take great pride in what I do. I feel like I'm trying to take that next step and become a star in the NFL, and the only way to do that is to continue to get better each and every year and continue to come out and perform. I feel like I'm throwing the ball really well right now.
How long is Tom Brady's shadow? Does it ever get discouraging?
Cassel: I come out with the intent of kicking his (butt) every day. If I can go out there and try to outperform him on certain days that means I'm getting better. Every day I get to compare myself to the best. That's a great thing for me because it pushes me to be the best I can possibly be. Each and every day I get to do drills with him and compete with him and beat him out in every drill.
Do you wonder if you'll ever get the chance to be an NFL starter?
Cassel: You always have to be thinking about your opportunity. You always have to be ready. I have big hopes and big dreams and aspirations to do great things in the NFL. I'd be lying if I said I was content to be a backup quarterback the rest of my career.
Do you think your opportunity will have to come elsewhere and not in a Patriots uniform?
Cassel: You never know. Tom probably never anticipated starting here with Drew Bledsoe here. If somebody was to tell you Tom Brady would be take over Drew Bledsoe's job the third game of the year and led the team to the Super Bowl. It just goes to show you have to prepare. There are guys throughout the NFL that get the chance one way or the other.
How much of a wake-up call would it be if something were to happen to Tom Brady?
Cassel: If it happens, I'll be ready to go.