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Vikings starting QB job is Cassel’s to lose

St. Paul Pioneer Press Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel catches a long snap during quarterback drills on the first day of training camp on Friday in Mankato, Minn.

MANKATO, Minn. — Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t required to make a declaration before training camp about Matt Cassel’s status. He figured, though, he’d give the media a good sound bite.

So as the Vikings reported for training camp Thursday, Zimmer declared that Cassel is the “No. 1 quarterback going into camp.”

“I figured everybody would ask,” Zimmer said Friday after the first official practice of training camp at Minnesota State Mankato. “I did not feel obligated to make that statement whatsoever. … I knew I was going to hear (questions about Cassel), so that’s why I did it.”

Zimmer emphasized Friday that Cassel isn’t guaranteed to start the Sept. 7 regular-season opener at St. Louis. Still, it was his strongest statement yet on the battle for the starting job among Cassel, rookie Teddy Bridgewater and, to a lesser extent, Christian Ponder.

Cassel, who signed a two-year deal as a free agent after Zimmer was hired, said he expected an early vote of confidence from his new coach.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t,” he said “I worked hard this offseason. I think I made a lot of progress. I think we made a lot of progress collectively as a group. So now going into camp, it’s my job to continue to compete and work every day.

“I still have to earn this thing. There is no easy road about it, and you have to go out and perform.”

The job, though, looks to be Cassel’s to lose.

“When you get into camp, you’re always competing,” Cassel said. “I don’t take anything for granted, and I know I’m going to go out here and work every day, and those guys are going to push me.”

Such competition is new for the 10-year veteran. When Cassel was in camps with New England from 2005-08, he was a backup with no chance of beating out Tom Brady.

With Kansas City from 2009-12, he went through training camp as the sure-fire starter; and last year in his first camp with the Vikings, he was working as Ponder’s backup.

“Throughout my entire career, coming in as a seventh-round draft pick, your mentality is always you have to go out and compete for your job every year, let alone the spot that you’re going to be in the rotation,” Cassel said. “So, for me, that mentality has never changed.”

But there certainly has been a role reversal between Cassel and Ponder. In camp last year, Ponder was a lock to start the opener after leading the Vikings to the playoffs in 2012. Now, after a rugged 2013 season, Ponder could find himself a third-stringer behind Cassel and Bridgewater, a first-round pick in May’s NFL draft.

“I’m here, and whatever reps I get, I’m going to try to learn from them and take advantage of it,” Ponder said. “I don’t know (what to expect). I’m going to be given an opportunity to play in preseason and the reps that I get, so I’m going to do the best I can and see how it plays out.”

Even if Cassel does begin the season as the starter, Bridgewater is Minnesota’s quarterback of the future. Zimmer has made that clear about the player taken with the No. 32 pick in the first round of May’s NFL draft.

“Teddy’s been a really good get for us,” Zimmer said Friday. “I don’t know when it will be (that he’s the starter), but I do know that I’m ecstatic to have him. ... The Vikings fans will be proud to have Teddy Bridgewater here for a long, long time.”

Friday marked Bridgewater’s first day of playing before NFL fans, which he called a “dream come true.” He accepts the fact that Cassel starts atop the pack, but vows there will be competition.

“I’m going to continue to just push Matt, and Coach Zim is going to make the best decision for the team, and the coaching staff feels that whenever I’m ready, that’s when my number will be called,” Bridgewater said. “But until then, my role is just to push Matt and make the quarterback room a better room.”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.