When Charlie Weis joined the Chiefs as offensive coordinator two years ago, he famously declared their quarterback, Matt Cassel, needed to be fixed and that he was the man for the job.
Their latest offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll, has worked with Cassel on the field for three weeks since the Chiefs started offseason practice. He is taking a decidedly different public path with Cassel. Daboll is grouping Cassel with some of the game’s elite quarterbacks.
“I have a lot of confidence in Matt,” Daboll said. “He’s been a winner. He’s had two 10-plus win seasons and I did a study just this offseason about 10-plus-win quarterbacks, which is what you’re defined by. There have been nine of them the last four years that have had two or more 10-plus-win seasons. Matt is one of them, the others being (Tom) Brady, (Drew) Brees, (Aaron) Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli (Manning), (Joe) Flacco, (Matt) Ryan.
“So he’s been a winner. He works his tail off in the classroom. He’s done a good job in these (offseason practices), and I’m looking forward to working with him. It’s not a rough process working with him. He’s smart. He’s very good with his reads. He understands (pass) protections and he understands coverages, and we work at it every day. There are some things that are obviously new that we’re working together on.”
It’s worth noting that Weis, considered something of a quarterback guru, was good to his word. In his one season playing for Weis, Cassel had his best NFL season. He threw for 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions and made the Pro Bowl as the Chiefs won 10 games and the AFC West championship.
Cassel’s other 10-win season happened in 2008, his last year with the Patriots before he was traded to the Chiefs. He started that season in place of the injured Tom Brady.
Daboll is the fifth coordinator for Cassel since he joined the Chiefs. None of the others could fix Cassel like Weis did. Last year, Cassel threw 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions before breaking his hand and missing the final seven games.
So getting Cassel back to what he was for Weis is the goal. The Chiefs added some pieces around him in running back Peyton Hillis, offensive tackle Eric Winston and tight end Kevin Boss. Tight end Tony Moeaki and running back Jamaal Charles are on schedule to return from season-ending knee injuries suffered last year.
“Obviously, the quarterback position and the head coach position, all those kind of positions, you’re going to have the star on you,” Daboll said. “It’s not cliché speak here, but it takes 11 guys out on the field doing the right thing — something we talked about continually in the meetings. If one guy, if a right guard or a receiver misses something, the play has a good chance of not working. It’s such a team sport that it’s not just Matt or Ricky (Stanzi) or Brady (Quinn) when they’re out there or (Alex Tanney), it takes everybody.”
Over three weeks of practice, Daboll has been able to gain some knowledge about his new players even if the Chiefs haven’t practiced in pads.
“You can learn some things to an extent,” he said. “Obviously, this game is played in pads. We’re abiding by all these rules and doing the right thing. In the passing game, you can see (how a receiver is running a route), the reads by the quarterback. You can see certain things. We have a competitive group … with the skill guys we’ve got, including Kevin. He was really a good addition. We’ve got some guys who are athletes that can do some stuff.
The combination of Romeo Crennel as head coach and Daboll as play caller could be a steadying presence that Cassel hasn’t had since joining the Chiefs. Former head coach Todd Haley was a volatile influence, as their occasional sideline battles showed.
None of that guarantees Cassel or the Chiefs success. They’ll finish offseason practice next week with a three-day minicamp that begins Tuesday and it’s at training camp where the Chiefs will begin to learn which Cassel will be their quarterback this season.
“Right now, we’re gaining a lot of ground because of the things he’s doing,” quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn said. “He’s been able to pick up the system quickly. Since he’s been able to do that, he can move through a lot of the basic things. So he’s working on some of the more advanced things right now.”