Chiefs QB gets a lot of disrespect

This was not the dying moment of an ugly loss. This was a

feel-good charity softball game in the middle of the summer, for

heaven’s sake, when everybody was feeling happy and upbeat.

Still the boos rained down on poor Matt Cassel.

A few weeks earlier, in another sign of the little regard so

many in Kansas City seem to have for their quarterback, Chiefs

owner Clark Hunt had publicly announced, seemingly with glee, that

the team hoped to sign free agent Peyton Manning.

It’s been the offseason of disrespect for Cassel, the summer of

indignity. It must have hurt. It had to hurt.

If it did, the perpetually sunny California native does a fine

job of hiding all the pain.

”I’m going to be the same guy each and every day,” he said

with an engaging grin as the Chiefs opened camp. ”I’m going to

give you 110 percent of what I have, and some people like it, some

people won’t. You know what? I’m going to give it my all.”

Even his harshest critics agree that Cassel’s been giving it his

all. Ever since Feb. 28, 2009, when brand new general manager Scott

Pioli traded with New England for Tom Brady’s backup, he’s been a

study in dedication, enthusiasm and zeal. More than once during

that first offseason, head coach Todd Haley practically had to kick

him out of the practice facility to go home for some much-needed

down time.

In his second season in 2010, with Charlie Weis as his offensive

coordinator, Jamaal Charles rushing for more than 1,450 yards and

Dwayne Bowe leading NFL receivers with 15 touchdown catches, Cassel

took the Chiefs to a 10-6 record and their first AFC West title

since 2003. He hit 262 of 450 passes for 3,116 yards and rang up a

sparkling touchdown-to-interception ratio of 27-7.

He did not play particularly well while the Baltimore Ravens

pounded KC in the first round of the playoffs. But he was off to

his first Pro Bowl. His career and the long-suffering Chiefs seemed

to be taking wing.

Then came last year’s injury-plagued disaster. Charles and

several other impossible-to-replace veterans missed almost the

entire season. Cassel himself made only nine starts and went on

injured reserve on Nov. 21 with a hand injury.

All winter long, fans and media critics harped that the Chiefs

would never reach the Super Bowl with Cassel at the helm. Then, at

the charity softball game in connection with baseball’s All-Star

game, Cassel actually got booed as he competed with other national

and local celebrities.

”The thing that I love about our fans is that they’re

passionate. They let you know how they feel one way or the other

and I can respect that,” he said with a big smile. ”I heard just

as many cheers. I heard, `CHIEFS!’ I didn’t hear any booing. That’s

what I heard, right?”

Critics of the 6-foot-4 Cassel say he can’t throw downfield and

sometimes panics, slow to process information when a play breaks

down.

But leading the league in offensive coordinators probably hasn’t

helped him grow. Officially in four years, he’s had five

coordinators. But that doesn’t count the heavy hand of Haley, who

was constantly tinkering with plays and game-day strategy,

sometimes overruling whatever play was called. Frequently, the

relationship between Haley and his quarterback was noticeably

strained.

But Haley’s gone now, fired with four games to go and now

coordinating Pittsburgh’s offense. Romeo Crennel, a defensive

specialist, is seizing his second opportunity to be a head coach

and is less likely to meddle with the offense.

”I don’t know why everybody beats up on the guy, other than the

fact we haven’t won the way everybody wants us to win,” Crennel

said. ”But he did take us to a playoff game. I’ve said before that

we have to develop Matt’s consistency. I think we are going to have

an opportunity to do that this year.”

Nevertheless, Cassel is having to learn yet another system. This

time, it’s under Brian Daboll, with whom he worked in New England.

But the volatile Haley is several states away. In addition, Charles

and the others are healthy. Plus, the offensive line’s been

strengthened in the offseason.

Maybe Cassel’s cheerful outlook is genuine.

”He’s our quarterback, and he’s going to try to take us to the

playoffs this year,” said Crennel. ”And if he can do that, then

everybody will have a different view of Matt.”