When the Patriots and Vikings meet this Sunday it will be the first time Matt Cassel faces his former team. Originally a seventh-round pick out of USC, where he never started a game behind Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, Cassel was thrust into the spotlight in 2008, when Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 1.
Cassel led the Patriots to an 11-5 record, but the Pats missed the playoffs after the Dolphins won the division. Cassel was eventually traded to the Chiefs for a second-round pick where he helped lead them to the playoffs in 2010. Injuries and inconsistencies landed him in Minnesota, where he won the job from Christian Ponder a year ago and earned the starting job outright this preseason, even though the Vikings drafted Teddy Bridgewater in the first round.
On Wednesday, Brady spoke about his relationship with Cassel -- they remain close -- especially early in Cassel's career.
"He was very talkative as a rookie," Brady said. "I had to make sure he didn't overstep his bounds from time to time. But that's part of his personality -- he's very energetic, he's very intense. He's always been that way, since the day I met him."
Cassel doesn't dispute this and says that Brady taught him how to carry himself like an NFL quarterback.
"I remember when I was a young quarterback and we’re out at practice and I forgot a motion, and I still hit the pass, but he got after me pretty good about forgetting the motion," Cassel said, via ESPN.com. "The whole point to why he did it, he said, ‘Look, you can’t be a guy and seen as a leader if you’re making mistakes, simple mistakes, on the field. You can’t be a guy that goes up and tries to get after somebody else if you’re making those mistakes.’ And I thought it was a great point and I’ve carried that with me wherever I’ve gone.
"I think I give all the credit to that, the fact that I was, as a young player, able to come in and learn from one of the best, if not the best over his career. Really, each and every day, watch the process that he went through, how he broke down defense, ask questions. And then for him to be so good to me to actually answer those questions and not blow me off like, ‘Hey, get out of here,' it was huge for my development as a player.”
While Brady and Cassel have had different NFL paths, they're origins into the league weren't that different. Brady was taken in the sixth round in 2000, one round and five years before Cassel.
"He's had to fight his whole career," Brady said of Cassel. "Things were never easy for him: they weren't easy in high school, they weren't easy in college, and certainly, when he got to the professional level, they weren't easy. He's had a lot of adversity, and he's dealt with it. I think that's made him a strong person, a strong player and really a great teammate. That's why he's the starting quarterback of a very good NFL team right now. I'm proud of him."