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O’HARA: Cassel’s experience gives him an edge in QB competition

Matt Cassel has discovered some of the unusual tweaks in Metro Detroit’s surroundings since signing with the Lions in April.

It’s a learning experience for Cassel, not unlike learning a new offense – with new terminology and teammates – as he prepares for his 14th pro season with his seventh team.

What has he learned about Detroit?

“Oh man, that’s an interesting topic,” Cassel said, laughing as he did a quick search of his memory banks before answering.

“I learned that Northville is actually west of where I am right now (Lions headquarters in Allen Park/Dearborn). I learned about the iron fist (the Joe Louis fist, at Hart Plaza).

“And I learned that the Ford family is everywhere around here which is pretty incredible. The people have been amazing. It’s genuine. It’s been a fun experience for me being here.”

There’s more to see and do – not just a loop of Belle Isle, or a drive by of the Uniroyal tire on I-94 (aka Ford Freeway, of course) – but with the important business of competing for the backup job to starting quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Cassel is in a tight competition with Jake Rudock. Head coach Matt Patricia has not indicated which quarterback has the upper hand, and the stats in the first preseason game at Oakland were close to even. 

Cassel’s experience gives him an edge, but Rudock benefits from having spent two seasons working in coordinator Jim Bob Cooter’s offense.

Cassel, 36, has played 101 games, with 86 starts and a won-loss record of 36-45. He made the Pro Bowl with Kansas City in the 2010 season with a 10-5 record, 27 TD passes and just seven interceptions.

Rudock has thrown five passes, with no TDs and one interception, in two seasons with the Lions. 

“Obviously, Jake has been here, so he understands a little bit,” Patricia said this week. “Matt is learning the offense from that standpoint. Matt has a little bit more experience – a little bit more kind of just on-field presence and experience from that standpoint in games.”

There also can be a mental edge for Cassel to not worry about where he stands on the depth chart.

“You just don’t get caught up in it,” he said. “You go out and do your job. You do the best you can every day and let the chips fall where they may.”

Both candidates have time to make an impression, both on the practice field and in the last three preseason games, starting Friday night against the Giants at Ford Field.

Cassel started against Oakland and finished the game by running the two-minute offense. Rudock took over late in the second quarter.

Cassel completed 10 of 18 passes for 81 yards. He was sacked three times and lost a fumble on the third sack. The Raiders recovered with 25 seconds left.

Cassel led the 75-yard, 12-play drive that ended in the Lions’ only touchdown – a one-yard run by Ameer Abdullah in the second quarter.

Rudock completed 12 of 19 passes for 84 yards. He was sacked once. He directed an 88-yard, 18-play drive that ended in a field goal for the Lions’ only other points.

Cassel’s experience was a benefit in one scenario. He was not surprised when he was sent back in for what proved to be the last possession. He had kept his head in the game from start to finish and stayed loose on the sideline.

“Coach always tells us to be ready to go in at any point,” Cassel said. “That prepares you mentally for exactly what could happen in a regular season game

“You could be sitting for three quarters, hanging out and eating seeds. Next thing you know, ‘Hey you, you’re going in.’ That’s how quickly it happens.

“I think it’s a great way to keep yourself sharp. Especially in our position as a backup quarterback. At any given point – it could be Game 1, or it could be not until Game 14. At the drop of a hat, you have to be in there.’

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