EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Matt Cassel wheeled — yes, wheeled — into the Minnesota Vikings’ locker room on Wednesday and spoke to the media for the first time since undergoing surgery to repair broken bones in his foot.
Cassel had a four-wheeled scooter to support his left foot, still immobilized in a walking boot, as he made his way to his locker on one foot, the wheels allowing him to get around a bit easier than crutches. The smile had returned to his face, as well, and he was able to joke around after being visibly disappointed earlier when his season had ended because of the injury.
"They don’t go up stairs, that’s the only unfortunate thing," Cassel said of his wheeled support. "But other than that, this thing is pretty handy instead of those crutches."
Cassel broke his foot in Week 3 against the New Orleans Saints, prematurely ending his return to an unquestioned starting quarterback job. Two bones in his foot had "pretty good breaks," according to Cassel, leaving doctors to find a way to keep the bones in place while they healed.
"Wires," Cassel said. "I’ve got them actually coming out of my foot so for Halloween I think it’ll be a good look."
Cassel said he’ll have the wires removed in a couple of weeks and will begin walking.
With a recovery timetable of 12 weeks, Cassel hopes to start throwing on the field before the end of the season. He didn’t suffer any major ligament damage and will have no restrictions once the bones are healed.
Left to wheel around the team facilities, Cassel has tried to help rookie Teddy Bridgewater, who might be taking his spot as the starter permanently. Cassel worked with Bridgewater from the beginning, but now he’s left to solely be a mentor off the field.
"We talk about the game; we watch the game together, obviously," Cassel said. "I’m in those meeting rooms. If I see something, whether it’s a certain route or a matchup that I think might be good, you always talk to him about that and make him aware of it, and I think Teddy’s done a tremendous job in a difficult situation of stepping up."
In his second season with the Vikings, the plan was for Cassel to start the entire season while Bridgewater learned from the bench. Cassel knew Minnesota would be adding a young quarterback for the future, but he returned to the team with a new two-year contract in the offseason with his eyes on a starting job and focused on extending his own career.
Cassel kept his starting spot entering the regular season, but would see it end after three games. The frustration was apparent after he learned he’d have to have season-ending surgery.
"It was definitely crushing at first," Cassel said. "Because of all the hard work that went into this offseason, the battle, so to speak, winning the job and then having it all taken away from you with an injury in the third week of the season. But you deal with it. You know that’s part of the culture of football, that injuries happen and then how can you contribute? How can you make these guys better and still have a role on the team?"
Cassel is trying to do his part. Meanwhile, his scooter and disfigured foot remain a topic of conversation and they bring out the humor in Cassel.
"I think they put three (wires) in, and they’re actually coming out the bottom of my foot so my daughters have a lot of fun with that," Cassel said.
Barr named player of the week: Rookie Anthony Barr was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week after his game-clinching effort against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week.
Barr became the fourth player in NFL history to return a fumble recovery for a touchdown in overtime, and the first to cause the fumble on his own. Barr scored the first overtime defensive touchdown in Vikings history and added eight tackles, one sack and one pass defended in the 19-13 victory.
"It’s always about the next day, about the process and the next opponent," Barr said of turning the page from last week. "The past is done with and no reason to dwell on that. You recollect on that and just got to move forward."
Barr is the first Vikings player to win the defensive player of the week award since Antoine Winfield in 2010 and the first rookie to win it since Cedric Griffin in 2006. Barr leads all NFL rookies with three sacks and is tied for the NFL lead with three fumble recoveries. He’s the sixth rookie linebacker to win the award since 2005.
Taco Thursdays: Cassel will play the role of mediator this week, as well. Fellow quarterbacks Bridgewater and Christian Ponder have a college rivalry brewing this week.
Cassel invited both over to his house for Thursday night when Bridgewater’s alma mater Louisville faces No. 2-ranked Florida State, where Ponder went to school.
"I think that they’ve got a little thing going on, so I said, ‘Let’s have it at my house, have some tacos and see what happens,’" Cassel said.
Bridgewater said there is "a ton of trash talking going on right now."
Surely the trash talk means Bridgewater believes his No. 25 Louisville team can knock off the defending champions, right?
"I can’t see into the future, but I’m hoping that they pull it off," Bridgewater said. "It will be a huge upset in school history."
The trash talk doesn’t sound too heated, and Cassel isn’t worried about breaking up any trouble between Bridgewater and Ponder.
"I’m actually there to more watch everything," Cassel joked. "I wanted it to happen in front of me."
Preparing for both: Quarterback Colt McCoy led Washington to a victory against the Dallas Cowboys last week. Former starter Robert Griffin III is healthy again and could be ready to return to the lineup for Washington on Sunday against Minnesota, which means the Vikings are preparing for both quarterbacks this week.
Griffin, who hasn’t played since Week 2 with an ankle injury, was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice for Washington. A report from Dianna Russini of NBC 4 in Washington said sources have told her that Griffin will start on Sunday.
"Well the offense will be the same, it’s just certain plays you’ll have to prepare for," coach Mike Zimmer said on Wednesday. "Colt McCoy, he’s a movement guy too, maybe not to the extent of Robert, but he’s a movement guy. Every time I’ve played him he’s tried to run some.
"They’re not going to change their entire offense, I don’t believe, if the other quarterback plays. They’ve got a staple of plays that they like to run, just like everybody does."
Robison held out: Defensive end Brian Robison was held out of Wednesday’s practice for the Vikings with a glute injury. Cornerback Jabari Price (hamstring) also missed Wednesday’s practice. Price has been limited much of the past two weeks with the injury.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph was held out of practice and continued working on the side with athletic trainers as he recovers from double sports hernia surgery.
Cornerback Josh Robinson (ankle), defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (ankle/knee), linebacker Gerald Hodges (hamstring), safety Antone Exum (ankle/shoulder) and tight end Chase Ford (foot) were limited on Wednesday.