Matt Cassel didn't get many opportunities to play at Southern Cal while backing up Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinert, but now the 23-year-old rookie has the early lead in a battle with fourth-year reserve Rohan Davey for the No. 3 quarterback job with the Super Bowl champion Patriots. (Doug Flutie is the likely backup to Tom Brady.)
A surprise seventh-round draft choice, Cassel threw a total of 33 passes in four seasons of mop-up duty for the Trojans. Last Friday night he threw 21 times in his first preseason game in the pros, completing 13 for 135 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions against the Bengals. In seven possessions Cassel produced four scoring drives--including a no-huddle, 14-play, 82-yard touchdown march just before halftime--in New England's 23-13 victory. "You did a good job," Palmer told his former USC roommate.
"It was kind of cool that Carson got to watch me for a change," said the 6'4", 222-pound Cassel. "I was just trying to stay calm and run the operation."
The Patriots won't divulge their reasons for drafting a player with virtually no college experience, but it's likely their scouts saw something while watching the practices of the two-time national champions. It was no secret that new Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who held the same position at Southern Cal, wanted to sign the strong-armed Cassel as a free agent had the Patriots not snapped him up.
An engaging, outgoing kid, Cassel was learning the Patriots' way in the wake of his breakout game. He was one of several neophytes told by coach Bill Belichick that rookies should be seen and not heard. He should see that as a good sign. Belichick only tells that to players he likes.