O'HARA: Cassel adept at learning on the fly

The welcome mat has been out for a long time for Matt Cassel from teams looking for a tried and tested quarterback, and there was another one that brought him to Detroit.

The Lions are his seventh stop in what has been a rewarding tour of the NFL. It started in 2005 as a seventh-round draft pick by New England and moved on before this year with stops in Kansas City, Minnesota, Buffalo, Dallas and Tennessee.

The Lions signed him as a free agent on April 9, one month after he was released by the Titans.

Cassel’s experiences and ability to adjust to different offenses and coaching styles gives him value in his competition with Jake Rudock to be Matthew Stafford’s backup. Cassel’s familiarity with head coach Matt Patricia from his four seasons (2005-08) with the Patriots was another positive factor.

“Obviously, I’ve got a lot of familiarity with the coaching staff,” Cassel said after Wednesday’s minicamp practice. “But at the same time, it’s a brand new offense. It feels like sometimes you’re a rookie. You’re asking a lot of questions.

“Stafford’s been nice, answering a lot of the questions. It’s just a process now.”

It seems unusual that a quarterback would have a strong connection with a career defensive coach, but that’s the case with Cassel and Patricia. Patricia joined the Patriots’ staff as an offensive assistant in 2004, one year before the Patriots drafted Cassel.

Patricia was promoted to assistant offensive line coach in 2005, and that’s when he and Cassel began their connection.

“He actually used to run the scout team when I first got there,” Cassel said. “We had a lot of time together. We had a lot of fun. It’s been a great relationship. That’s one of the main reasons I’m here.”

Patricia remembers Cassel’s upbeat personality and his level of athleticism that’s a surprise to many.

“What a teammate he is,” Patricia said. “His approach, his study, and the respect he gets from not only the players, but the coaches, too. He’s been great.”

Cassel’s widespread travels have taught him to learn in a hurry.

“You grow a lot from every one of those experiences,“ he said. “I’ve been through a lot of changes throughout the course of my career. I’ve had, I think, 12 different offensive coordinators. You have an understanding of how to come in, how to work, and get prepared for the season.”

With his many stops, Cassel’s resume might give the impression that he’s spent his career watching from the sideline, charting plays and making suggestions. The following stats and factors show otherwise:

Games played: 106 regular-season games, with 81 starts and a won-loss record of 36-45.

Starting string: He started 15 games in three straight seasons (2008-10), and posted won-loss records of 10-5 with the Patriots in 2008 and the Chiefs in 2010.

View photos from Day 2 of Detroit Lions minicamp practice.

Honors: Cassel made the Pro Bowl in the 2010 season with the Chiefs, when he set personal single-season highs for TD passes (27) and passer rating (93.0).

Pressure performance: It could not have been any greater on an untested backup than in 2008, when Tom Brady went out for the season with a knee injury on New England’s second possession of the opening game.

The score was 0-0, when Cassel took over and led the Patriots to a 17-10 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. However, under NFL rules, Brady got credit for the win because he started the game.

The Patriots finished the season with a won-loss record of 11-5 – with three of the wins on the road – to finish in a tie with the Dolphins for first place in the AFC East. However, the Dolphins won the division on a tiebreaker, and the Patriots missed the playoffs.

For the season, Cassel threw 21 TD passes against 11 interceptions. His performance prompted the Chiefs to sign him as a free agent in 2009.

If Cassel makes the Lions’ roster, he’ll give the Lions their most experienced backup since Daunte Culpepper, a part-time starter in 2008-09 with 105 career games played and 100 starts.

Through all of his travels, Cassel has never lost his enthusiasm to compete and prepare to play.

“I’ve played a lot of different roles,” Cassel said. “I’ve been a starter for a lot of those years. The mentality can never change. Even if you’re in a backup role, you’ve got to always prepare yourself.

“The hardest part sometimes is when you don’t get the reps (in practice) and you have to push yourself to learn and understand what’s really going on.”

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