St. Joseph, Mo. Matt Cassel may be known some day as more than the only quarterback to start a game in the NFL without starting in college.
Saturday night’s exhibition outing at Tampa Bay will be his next good test, but Kansas City coaches have been greatly encouraged with the poise, accuracy and hard work their second-year man has been putting on display in grueling, 100-degree temperatures at training camp.
In a night practice this week, he uncorked several thread-the-needle passes, the kind he rarely showed before.
He’s also had some mediocre practices since the Chiefs opened camp in late July. But overall, Cassel has looked much sharper than the first-year starter who hit 55 percent and threw one interception for every touchdown pass (16) a year ago.
“I think last night he made a bunch of real good throws, in tight spots,” Chiefs coach Todd Haley said. “Now I’ve got a quarterback who appears to be running the operation well, efficiently. He’s throwing the ball where it’s supposed to go generally. Those are all signs of progress for this guy.”
In all fairness to Cassel, it needs to be pointed out that his receivers led the NFL with a horrific 48 dropped passes. But accuracy was only one of his issues in 2009 when the Chiefs went 4-12 with Haley doing triple-duty as quarterback coach, offensive coordinator and rookie head coach.
Now Haley is “only” head coach. In to run the offense is Charlie Weis. The former Patriots offensive coordinator and Notre Dame head coach has made Cassel his top priority.
“I watched all the plays from last year,” Weis said. “I wanted to make sure I knew exactly what I was getting because the first thing I wanted to do was help fix the quarterback.”
Fix the quarterback?
Told of his coordinator’s statement, Cassel grinned sheepishly.
“That’s interesting,” he said. “Every coach comes in every offseason, and they take little nuances they want to work on each and every offseason. If they’re not here to try to fix something, whether it’s the running backs coach or the receivers coach, then they’re probably not doing their job.”
A yen for yearning to be as good as he can possibly be have been Cassel hallmarks since he came over in a trade from New England following the 2008 season.
“I think there’s nobody that pushes you harder than you push yourself,” Cassel said. “If you’re at this level, you better be able to push yourself every day.”
Cassel missed the season opener last year with a knee injury, but started the next 15 games and wound up hitting 55 percent of his passes for 2,924 yards. Haley won’t say what percentage he’s looking for this year, but improved accuracy is a must.
“I would say part of his improvement is going to be decision-making, part of his improvement is going to be running the operation, leading his team, and part of it is going to be accuracy,” Haley said. “There’s still a lot to work to be done. Make no mistake about that.”