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Cassel heads crop of QBs who must perform this season

  • By Vic Carucci NFL.com
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Associated Press
Kyle Orton, Matt Cassel and Matt Leinart are among several QBs facing pressure to produce in 2010.


For several quarterbacks, 2010 is a make-or-break season.

Anything less than a strong performance by those in this group is likely to lead to a lost starting job, if not a spot on the roster.

This will be the season that some clubs determine if they can afford to go any longer with the man they once defined as their "quarterback of the future." They and the players involved understand that the future clearly is now.

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Sitting at, or at least very near, the top of the list is Matt Cassel. The Kansas City Chiefs gave up the No. 34 overall pick of the 2009 draft to acquire Cassel and veteran linebacker Mike Vrabel from the New England Patriots. Last summer, they signed Cassel to a six-year contract worth $63 million, including $28 million in guaranteed money and $40.5 million in total compensation through the first three seasons.

In his first year with Kansas City, Cassel was far from impressive, which was consistent with the Chiefs' 4-12 finish. He went 4-11 in 15 starts and threw for 2,924 yards, 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. His passer rating was 69.9.

"I think this is a big year for Matt," Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli said. He was quick to add that it's a big year for "a lot of players," but he knows the franchise is under pressure to show significant progress and that it won't happen unless Cassel plays far better than he did last year.

Pioli also pointed out that Cassel didn't have as strong a supporting cast in his first season with the Chiefs as he did in 2008 with the Patriots, after he replaced injured starter Tom Brady and became one of the most-coveted available quarterbacks in the league the following offseason. In New England, Cassel was throwing to Randy Moss and Wes Welker. In Kansas City, he had nobody close to that talent level.

"We saw some progress with Matt over the course of (last) season," said Pioli, who oversaw the Patriots' player-personnel before becoming the Chiefs' GM last year. "He had faced some adversity, on different levels, that he hadn't had to face before. Even though he moved into that spot when Tommy got hurt a couple of years ago, he had some players around him where it made the transition possibly a little bit easier."

The Chiefs are hoping that Cassel's game will be helped by the fact that wide receiver Chris Chambers, who joined the team halfway through last season, will be available from the start of the year. They're also hoping Cassel will benefit from new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, who did plenty to help Brady go from sixth-round draft pick to mega-star when Weis ran the offense in New England.

Weis and Chiefs coach Todd Haley have worked together previously and share similar offensive philosophies and terminology. Before Weis met Cassel, the coach studied videotape of every snap the quarterback had taken in the NFL. Entering the offseason, Weis' primary focus was working on Cassel's footwork.

"Just putting myself in a good position to throw and staying on balance," Cassel said. "And that's something that's really started to show as we've gotten going in camp so far."

Veteran offensive guard Brian Waters added, "Matt is like a lot of the young guys; you definitely see them more comfortable in their second year. I think that last year was the first time he really had his own team, so this year I think you're going to see a different guy who's going to be more in command and more in command of the huddle. And I think guys will look at him as a true leader.

"Last year, he earned a lot of respect, the way he went about preparing for games and the type of competitor that he is. I think this year it'll be even better for him, because everybody's kind of used to playing with one another."

It had better be. The expectations for the team are high. The expectations for Cassel to resemble what he was in '08 -- or at least come close to that -- are higher.

He doesn't seem ruffled.

"I don't think there's anybody that puts more pressure on himself than I do," Cassel said. "I think as the quarterback of any NFL team, you put a tremendous amount of pressure on yourself to win ball games because that's what you're here to do and ultimately, that's what you want to do. So for me, it's just continue to go out and work hard and do what I've been coached and let the other guys take advantage of what they do successfully and then just let the chips fall where they may."

The same can pretty much be said for these other quarterbacks at a crossroads:

» Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears: He can only hope that new offensive coordinator Mike Martz can elevate his game.

» Trent Edwards, Buffalo Bills: He's banking on new coach Chan Gailey, an offensive guru, helping him improve dramatically.

» David Garrard, Jacksonville Jaguars: He's looking for the remarkable efficiency he hasn't consistently shown since 2007.

» Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle Seahawks: Can he stay healthy enough and perform well enough to stick around for another season?

» Matt Leinart, Arizona Cardinals: He's off to a rough start in taking on the enormous challenge of replacing Kurt Warner.

» Kyle Orton, Denver Broncos: He has the starting job because he has the most familiarity with the offense, but at some point Tim Tebow is going to make a push.

» Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers: He must demonstrate, once and for all, that he can be the quarterback the 49ers thought he could be when they made him the top-overall pick in 2005.

Observation points

» So let me get this straight: Ryan Longwell, Steve Hutchinson and Jared Allen flew to Hattiesburg, Miss., to essentially beg Brett Favre to return to the Vikings. Something just isn't right about that. True, something isn't just right about the entire Favre saga, but when teammates feel the need to leave training camp to convince him to play, it takes the ridiculousness of it all to a whole new level. It also speaks to the level of desperation that coach Brad Childress is feeling after watching his team's first preseason game.

» Chiefs backup quarterback Brodie Croyle has an arm injury that prompted the team to pick up rookie Bill Stull from Pitt, but don't be surprised if Croyle ends up being dealt. One possible landing spot is Buffalo, as Gailey was Croyle's offensive coordinator in Kansas City.

» As I end my 2010 training camp tour, I wanted to toss out some superlatives from my stops.

NFL Preseason Live

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Most beautiful scenery: Napa, Calif., Raiders

Most fan-friendly setup: Pittsford, N.Y., Bills

Maximum use of every inch of space: Earth City, Mo., Rams

Best name for a camp location: Earth City

Most rabid fan base (tie): San Antonio, Texas, Cowboys; Denver (strictly from Tim Tebow Mania).

Coolest fan experience: Green Bay, when Lambeau Field hosted the Packers' annual shareholders meeting for only the seventh time in history on the same day the team opened camp.

No fan experience: Raiders. That's just the way they prefer it.

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