MANKATO, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer's Thursday statement that Matt Cassel was the No. 1 quarterback entering training camp didn't mean he was declaring Cassel the team's opening day starter, and Cassel didn't take it as that kind of a pronouncement -- not after an nine-year career when he has come into camp as the unquestioned starting quarterback only four times.
He'll have to win a training camp competition with Teddy Bridgewater and Christian Ponder this season to start on Sept. 7 against the St. Louis Rams, and Cassel said on Friday that he's ready to fight for the job. After the conclusion of the Vikings' training camp in June, Cassel again spent part of his summer in Southern California working out with Tom House, the former Texas Rangers pitching coach who now makes his living working with quarterbacks as well as young baseball players. House, who also has counted Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Joe Flacco, Alex Smith and Carson Palmer among his clients, worked with Cassel for a second time this summer after former Kansas City Chiefs quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn pointed Cassel in House's direction several years ago.
"Coach Zorn sold it more, because he talked about Brees coming back from [shoulder] rehab, and Flacco going there," Cassel said. "As athletes, we're always looking for an edge or a place to get better in certain areas. It was a way for us to go and kind of learn more about biomechanics and throwing, as well as shoulder strengthening exercises, [with] which he does some unique things."
It's typically pitchers, not quarterbacks, who get detailed feedback about their mechanics; House, who was Nolan Ryan's pitching coach in Texas, has expanded that study to football players as he gets requests from quarterbacks.
"It was kind of fun and interesting to learn about it from a scientific standpoint," Cassel said. "You can't overthink it -- you've been throwing a ball since you were however old -- but it was interesting to hear about that and be able to understand what's going on between your legs, your upper body and all that stuff. Some of it gets reinforced in drills, and some of it's scientific stuff; he talks through readings, shows you diagrams at that kind of stuff. It's very interesting."
Cassel will begin camp taking many of the first-team snaps, and if Bridgewater isn't ready to assume the starting role by September, it stands to reason Cassel will have the job to start the regular season. He has spent most of his career with a well-defined spot in the pecking order as he starts camp; this year might represent the first truly open competition Cassel's had for the top job. After beginning his career as Brady's backup, however, Cassel said he has learned not to assume anything.
"I think throughout my entire career coming in as a seventh-round draft pick, your mentality is always you have to go out and compete for your job every year, let alone the spot that you’re going to be in the rotation," Cassel said. "So, for me that mentality has never changed and you come out, you compete and you work hard, and you try to get better each and every day and go from there.”