Zulgad's 3-and-out: Cassel making it clear he's in charge this time around
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Matt Cassel arrived in Minnesota in March 2013 looking to resurrect his career but comfortable in the fact that he was being asked to play a supporting role.
"The fact of the matter is ... Christian (Ponder) is the starting quarterback, and I think we'll have a great (quarterback) room," Cassel said at the time. "I'm there to add value. I'm there to help him out in whatever capacity that is and go from there."
Just over a year later, things could not be more different for Cassel.
Ponder's third season in the NFL proved to be a bust and Cassel, after making six starts in 2013, opted out of the second year of his contract and then signed a two-year, $10 million contract to remain with the Vikings.
Cassel will be the No. 1 quarterback entering the Sept. 7 opener in St. Louis - first-round rookie Teddy Bridgewater will serve as his backup - and that seems to have caused a not so subtle change in his demeanor.
The 32-year-old Cassel, for lack of a better term, appears to have flipped a switch from backup Matt to starter Matt.
Last summer during training camp, Cassel was a guy who did not want to create the appearance that he was trying to take command or was attempting to push Ponder aside.
Cassel seemed to take it very seriously that he was being asked to be a good teammate to Ponder and embrace the backup role. That Cassel seemed a bit more lighthearted.
This year Cassel comes off as more serious and focused in his actions and while no one questions he is attempting to help Bridgewater in his development, Cassel also is acting like a guy who knows his teammates are looking to him for leadership on and off the field.
The Vikings should be thrilled about this. This is the switch Ponder never seemed capable of flipping.
The first glimpse of this version of Cassel might have come late last September when he got his first start against Pittsburgh in London. Players on the Vikings offense talked at the time about Cassel being in command of the huddle.
This is exactly what you want from your quarterback. A guy who knows how to take over and never appears to be at a loss in any situation.
This is not to say that a more-focused Cassel is going to be the difference in whether the Vikings are successful this season - and it won't make him a Pro Bowl passer -- but it's a good start when your quarterback is willing to make it clear he's your leader.
An issue of depth & experience
Jerome Simpson spent Monday in New York reportedly appealing a three-game suspension the NFL has handed down for a drunken driving arrest last November.
Meanwhile, Jarius Wright left practice early after jumping to catch a pass and coming down awkwardly on his left ankle.
It's uncertain if the former will end up being banned for the first three games of the season, or if the latter's ankle issue will keep him out, but all of this served as a reminder of just how thin the Vikings could be at wide receiver. The lack of many veterans also is a potential factor.
Cordarrelle Patterson has star potential and Greg Jennings is a reliable veteran, but after those two the Vikings' depth chart at the position features rookies Kain Colter, Donte Foster and Erik Lora; first-year players Andy Cruse, Kamar Jorden, Adam Thielen and Ty Walker; and second-year player Rodney Smith.
Jennings has nine years in the league and Simpson has seven but after that Wright's three seasons are tops on the team among the receivers.
If Simpson is suspended for games against St. Louis, New England and New Orleans, the Vikings could be closely examining the waiver wire in hopes of adding veteran depth before the regular-season starts.
I've added a third suggestion of changes that would improve the already enjoyable experience of spending time at Target Field. (Yes, I know, the baseball team isn't good, but when you're stuck going to indoor baseball from the ages of 12 to 40 it's hard to complain about a beautiful outdoor ballpark.)
My longtime focus has been re-introducing the bullpen car to bring in relief pitchers. I'm talking the old-school golf cart with the big Twins hat on the top, too, not the nice luxury cars that were used in the early 1980s. This started out being discussed in a joking manner but if you want to speed up games why not get the pitcher to the mound as quick as possible?
The second has been growing vegetables, preferably tomatoes, in the center field area where the trees used to be planted. Trees don't work because they interfere with the batter's eye, but this doesn't mean you can't grow something out there and why not hire someone to tend to a garden?
Suggestion No. 3 would be the first that would have a direct impact on the game and we don't think fans would mind.
On Friday night against Kansas City, Oswaldo Arcia belted a ball to right-center field that did not leave the park. Given Arcia's strength, this served as a reminder of just how difficult it can be to hit the ball out to that area of Target Field.
This issue is at 23 feet that portion of the wall could and should be lowered. So what should the Twins do?
Lower the wall in right-center to 8 feet, same as the fences in left and center fields, and redesign it so the out-of-town scoreboard is at the base of the wall. The Twins can leave the right field portion of the fence at 23 feet.
A drawback is this could cause some tricky bounces off the scoreboard in right-center but that also might be fun to watch. You know what else might be fun to watch? Seeing power-hitters like Arcia blasting the ball out of Target Field on a more regular basis when they drive the ball to right-center.