Cassel leads informal Chiefs workout
Quarterback Matt Cassel and some of his Chiefs teammates are getting in some spring practice despite the NFL lockout.
Eight Chiefs players gathered today for a throwing session at a Kansas City area high school. There was no doubt about the one in charge.
Matt Cassel, practicing in sunglasses and a ball cap turned backward, wasn't necessarily dressed for the part. But he was the one calling out orders, giving all the play calls, directing traffic. Practice started when he arrived and concluded when he left.
"This,'' wide receiver Jeremy Horne said, stating the obvious, "is Matt's deal.''
With the owner-imposed lockout firmly in place, the Chiefs are on their own for conditioning and practice. For three weeks, Cassel has organized local workouts for any interested Chiefs players.
This morning, six players met at a local fitness center for a 2 ½-hour conditioning session. Later, eight Chiefs, mostly offensive skill players, showed at a high school field for an hour-long practice.
That's where Cassel took control. After a brief warm-up period, he immediately began calling plays from the Chiefs book and then giving imaginary defensive coverages.
"He's the quarterback, so he has to know what everybody is doing on every single play,'' Dexter McCluster said. "One thing I've learned: Matt knows what he's talking about.''
Cassel would correct receivers who ran an improper route and one time asked tight end Brad Cottam how he would have changed a route if the coverage had been different. He ordered plays to be run again if things weren't done correctly.
"I don't want to come out here and just go through the motions,'' Cassel said. "We've got a lot of young guys out here trying to get better. If we come out here and I say, 'Just run a slant,' then they're not thinking about coverages or trying to get better. This is all about, "Why are we running this route?' You'll hear me say, 'OK, they're in man coverage. What do we want to do here?' It makes them think. They have to make the adjustments.
"It's also an exercise for myself to be able to stay mentally sharp. We go through the route concepts. We can't get lazy with this. There's no defense out there so there are guys running around open all the time. But it won't be that way in a game. So I'll go through my route progressions, look here, look there, redirect my feet. It's a lot of good work for everybody.''
Practice participants tend to change as players come in and out of town. Dexter McCluster worked for the first time today and said after a brief trip home to Florida later in the week that he would return to practice in whatever sessions Cassel would call.
"Matt called me and told me what he's got going,'' McCluster said. "It's an opportunity to get better. Sitting at home has not been fun. It feels good to be back here and doing something to get better.
"I've been working out (in Florida) but there's nothing like coming back here and getting with the teammates you know. You can do this (in Florida) but it's not the same guys and it's not the same routine. You're just running routes. Here, I know the game plan and I know the guys and I'm comfortable with them.
"I want to be on top of my game. It starts now.''
Cassel and Tyler Palko were the quarterbacks today. Other Chiefs participants were McCluster, Horne, Cottam, wide receiver Quinten Lawrence and defensive backs Jon McGraw and Rashard Langford.
Two players who recently finished their college careers, didn't get drafted and were hopeful of signing with an NFL team when the lockout if lifted also participated. One was tight end DeMarco Cosby of the University of Central Missouri and Lincoln Prep High School.
"It's challenging right now getting a lot of guys here with this labor dispute,'' Cassel said. "A lot of young guys can't afford to be out here. I remember my first and second year, I was staying at my parents house. Free food and all that. We've got such a young team. Hopefully over the next month or so we'll be able to get more guys out here.
"There's no substitute for having the whole team here. But we're trying to make our best effort to make progress this time of year. We're doing a pretty good job of it.''
With just 10 players involved, it wasn't difficult for the participants to avoid contact. But neither did the players seem concerned about an injury. Routes were run at something resembling full speed.
"You want to be careful but you won't get the same amount of work in if you're going half speed,'' McCluster said. "The timing will be totally off between you and the quarterback. You want to come out here, go full speed, run 10 or 15 routes full speed, get the timing down and call it a day. You don't want to overwork it.''
Not all of the work was perfect. McCluster at one point dropped an easy throw, prompting Horne to tell him, "Everybody's rusty right now.''
Cassel was upset with himself after a couple of errant throws. Once he asked Lawrence to run a route again so he could make a better throw on a particular route.
"I'm a perfectionist,'' Cassel said. "It's about not allowing yourself to get lazy. It matters because sooner or later, we're going to be in that game situation and that throw is going to come up and it has to be right.''