IRVING, Texas – Matt Cassel is no stranger to this situation, but that doesn't make it any less thrilling to be appointed a team's starting quarterback.
"I'm really excited," he said Wednesday morning. "It's an opportunity and there's no doubt about it – I don't take it for granted, I know how hard it is to get on the field in this league."
Cassel's proficiency as a starter in a time of need is the reason he became a known name in the NFL, dating back to his successful stint with the New England Patriots. He parlayed it into an 11-year career, including stops – as both a starter and backup – with Kansas City, Minnesota and Buffalo.
However experienced he might be with the business of quarterbacking, Cassel admitted Wednesday that this is a bit different. It is the Dallas Cowboys, after all.
"I told you guys a few weeks ago, it's always been a dream of mine to play for the Cowboys, let alone to be the starter for the Cowboys," he said. "I'm excited about the opportunity, and I'll work extremely hard. Hopefully we'll go out there and get some wins."
At first look that might seem strange, considering Cassel was born in California and played for Southern Cal before being drafted by the Patriots. As he has gladly pointed out, though, his ties to the Cowboys go generations deep.
"I grew up a Dallas Cowboy fan, my dad is from Lubbock, Texas," he said. "We always support the big star, and I think just growing up being a Dallas Cowboy fan – I think it's huge that I'm in the position to be the starter. We're all kind of pinching ourselves a little bit."
He definitely isn't dreaming, and the Cowboys' current situation will emphasize that. The reasoning for benching Brandon Weeden begins with a three-game losing streak, which the coaching staff will hope Cassel can correct while they wait for Tony Romo to return from injury.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said on Monday that Cassel is comfortable with the Cowboys' offense after spending the past four weeks around the team. Asked about Cassel's skillset on Wednesday, he raved about what the veteran has to offer while Romo recovers.
"He's started games in this league and won games in this league. He has a skill set that allows him to do anything we would ask him to do," Garrett said. "He's big, he's strong, he's fast, he can throw the ball, short, medium and deep, he's accurate, he's athletic. There are a lot of different things he brings to the table and we just want to give him an opportunity to run this offense and lead our football team."[embeddedad0]
Cassel led the first-team offense at a non-padded practice Wednesday morning, and he'll again have the reigns for Thursday's practice before the team breaks for the bye week. Even if it is a lighter workload, Cassel said it's important to get some reps in before game preparation for the Giants begins next week.
"Obviously I'm still growing in everything that we're doing. Today was the first time I took snaps with the first team -- the first time I threw the ball to Beasley and Witten and those guys since I've been here," he said. "I think building that rapport and building that chemistry, it's important that I take advantage of these next few weeks."
With this decision behind them, the Cowboys now have an extended timeframe to prep for the trip to New York, where they'll hope to resuscitate their flagging offense enough to get back into the win column.
Asked about his role in that equation, Cassel said he looked forward to the challenge.
"I'm very confident," he said. "We've got a lot of great players in this room and in this building. If I go out and do my job at a high level, I think everybody will be impacted for the better."