By Jim Rueda
---- — MANKATO — Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier has made it clear on numerous occasions that the team signed veteran quarterback Matt Cassel during the offseason to be Christian Ponder's backup and not to challenge for the starting job.
After one preseason game and more than two weeks of training camp, that's about the way things seem to be playing out.
The Vikings lost to the Houston Texans on Friday and starter Ponder was in for only one series. Although one of his two pass attempts was intercepted, his brief stint behind center really didn't give coaches much to evaluate.
Cassel played most of the first half and, by his own critique, did some good things and some not so good things. He finished 12 of 19 for 212 yards with one interception and one touchdown pass.
"There were a lot of good things out there on Friday night," he said. "We moved the ball but obviously we want to eliminate the turnover.
"That's why we play these preseason games. It was our first time out there in live action and it gave us a chance to get into the rhythm of the game."
Cassel didn't really expect to set the world on fire in the preseason opener but he's definitely starting to feel more comfortable.
"I had five different coordinators in the last four years at Kansas City and now I have a new one here in Minnesota. It's a new experience but my job is to adapt quickly and to get in synch with this offense as fast as I can."
The Vikings learned the hard way last season that the No. 2 quarterback on the team can't be an afterthought. When Ponder was unable to play because of an arm injury in the wild card playoff game, an unproven Joe Webb was summoned to replace him.
Webb completed just 11 of 30 passes for 180 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The result was a season-ending loss to the Green Bay Packers.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said Cassel was brought in mostly because of his track record.
"He brings (us) some experience," Musgrave said . "He's a proven guy and he's (been helping) the quarterbacks through the offseason. He will help with his skills."
Cassel is still grappling a little bit with the new terminology of the Vikings but says he is becoming more accustomed to it.. A lot of the words are familiar but mean different things in this new offense so sometimes he has to remind himself what to do when a particular play is called.
"For me the important thing is just to keep progressing," he said. "I want to improve my reads and get my timing down with the receivers and try to help the offense finish drives. That's the same no matter if you're the starter or the backup or third-string."
Cassel's next game opportunity comes on Friday when the team travels to Buffalo to take on the Bills. Ponder is expected to take a few more snaps in that one but Cassel is likely to get plenty of playing time in the second and third quarters.
"(Matt) is still learning our offense," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "We just have to keep giving him opportunities and he will get better. There are some things we are doing here that he hasn't had to do somewhere else."