Patriots' rookie QB Cassel shuns label of 'Next Brady'

Published: Sunday, May 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, May 1, 2005 at 1:56 a.m.
FOXBORO, Mass. - Matt Cassel already has enough in common with Tom Brady to draw comparisons to the two-time Super Bowl MVP.
A Californian who grew up admiring Joe Montana, a late-round draft pick by the Patriots, a quarterback who had to fight for playing time in college, Cassel's background is remarkably similar to the man he calls ''Mr. Brady.'' Now all the seventh-rounder from Southern Cal needs to complete the story is to win the starting job in New England - and a few NFL titles.
''It's hard to say I'll be the next this or the next that. Tom Brady is a unique situation,'' Cassel said at his temporary metal cubby in the middle of the Patriots' locker room after reporting for his first professional minicamp.
''He's become one of the best players in the game. Nobody else in the NFL has been able to accomplish what he's accomplished, whether they're a first-, third- or seventh-round pick. For me to say that I would emulate anything he's done is a little bit of wishful thinking.''
Brady didn't start until his fourth year at Michigan, and even then he had to fight off challenges from highly touted freshman Drew Henson. Still, the Patriots made the San Mateo, Calif., native the 199th overall pick in the 2000 draft and kept him around to back up Drew Bledsoe, who was the top overall pick in '93.
But at least Brady was a starter in college. Cassel threw just 33 passes at Southern Cal while backing up a pair of Heisman Trophy winners, Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart.
''That is a tough spot to be in,'' said Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who made Cassel the 230th overall pick in this year's draft. ''He was in a very competitive situation and they ended up going with the other guy (Leinart). He might have been the quarterback there if somebody had been hurt. They might have won the national championship with him, who knows?''
A game-tape junkie, Belichick said there wasn't too much to be learned from watching Cassel's college experience, coming as it did at the end of USC blowouts. But it helps that Cassel played for former New England coach Pete Carroll in a pro-style system.
That made it worth risking a late-round pick.
Just like with Brady.
''Look, we are talking about a guy in the seventh round. This isn't John Elway here,'' Belichick said. ''We are talking about a guy who played behind two of the best players in college football in a good program. The team won a national championship two years in a row.
''We know why he was where he was. He was in a good program. He played in a good system with a good coordinator, a good head coach and a team that hasn't lost in a couple of years. They are pretty good. We'll see how it goes. He is a seventh-round pick.''
Cassel has also been drafted by the Oakland Athletics as a pitcher whose fastball reaches 90 mph. But he said he never considered giving up football or transferring, because he knew he would be the starter at USC if Leinart struggled.
''I was always just one play away,'' he said. ''It worked out, for me to be here.''
  • EAGLES: Philadelphia is moving on without Terrell Owens and Freddie Mitchell.
    With Owens holding out of Philadelphia's mandatory minicamp and Mitchell on his way out of town, rookie wide receiver Reggie Brown is getting a chance to show off his skills.
    ''I've been waiting my whole life to be in this position and I'm going to take advantage,'' Brown said Saturday. ''Football is what I was raised on. It's good to come to a city that loves football.''
  • COLTS: NFL sack leader Dwight Freeney recently had shoulder surgery and might not be ready to practice when Indianapolis opens training camp in late July, coach Tony Dungy said Saturday.
    Dungy revealed the surgery on the two-time Pro Bowl defensive end during the second day of the Colts' rookie minicamp.
    ''He had shoulder surgery a couple of weeks ago - just a cleanup,'' Dungy said. ''We kind of knew that it was coming. (They) had planned on doing it after the Pro Bowl. We expect him to be full-go right around the beginning of camp.''
  • BILLS: Buffalo rookie tight end Kevin Everett missed both minicamp practices Saturday because of swelling in his left knee.
    Coach Mike Mularkey said the team will wait for the swelling to diminish before conducting further tests.
  • RAVENS: Rookie wide receiver Mark Clayton strained his left hamstring Saturday and was held out of practice, although the injury is not considered serious.
    The first-round draft pick from Oklahoma was hurt running a pattern.
    ''I felt something and slowed down,'' said Clayton, who laughed while insisting he will ready for the season-opener against Indianapolis.
    Clayton didn't drop any passes and made a strong impression during Baltimore's two-day rookie camp. The Sooners' all-time leading receiver is to start opposite Derrick Mason.
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