MANKATO, Minn. – Nine years in the NFL has provided Matt Cassel with about any scenario he might experience as a quarterback, both as a backup and starter.
When Cassel re-signed with the Minnesota Vikings, he believed he was returning with a chance to be the team’s starter with the knowledge Minnesota was likely going to draft a future at the position. The 32-year-old was eventually joined by first-round draft pick Teddy Bridgewater.
When the Vikings arrived to training camp at Minnesota State University on Thursday, coach Mike Zimmer proclaimed Cassel the "No. 1" quarterback but made no promises on who would start Sept. 7 in the first regular-season game at St. Louis.
Zimmer’s declaration was more about the current depth chart and Cassel figured he’d be No. 1 entering camp.
"I would be lying if I said I wasn’t," Cassel 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, and show these guys that you know how to run the offense, that you’re going to be accountable and you’re going to put them in a position to be successful."
Throughout the offseason workouts, Cassel took the first repetitions at quarterback, while sharing some snaps with the first-team offense with Bridgewater and — to a lesser degree — with Christian Ponder.
Cassel, who started the final four games last season, came back to Minnesota for a shot to be the starter. He wasn’t disillusioned by the Vikings drafting Bridgewater. Instead, he simply returned with the early edge in a competition.
"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. And that’s just part of this process. I think it makes us all better with competition and we’ve got a great group of guys. We all work hard and it will be fun. It will be fun to get out here and compete."
Cassel started six of the nine games he played last season, and led Minnesota to a 4-3 record in games in which he played at least a half. The Vikings finished 5-10-1 overall with an unsettled quarterback spot that included Ponder and Josh Freeman.
While Zimmer said Cassel is No. 1 on Thursday, the new coach was only acknowledging the reality of the depth chart. He was making no firm announcement on a starter.
"It doesn’t mean that when we play the St. Louis Rams, he’s going to be the starter," Zimmer said Friday. "But he was going to line up with the first team. And I knew that you all wanted to hear something like that, so that’s why I did it. I think I clarified that when I said that yesterday. He’s the No. 1 quarterback, but he’s not declared the starter."
Initiation into camp life: The Vikings first night in the dorms was going well until a fire alarm went off at 1:30 a.m. and forced the players, coaches and staff out of the building.
"Oh, man. It was terrible," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. "I didn’t want to move. But 1:30 wakeup call, it’s OK. It’s part of camp. It’s camp life."
Cassel said he had experienced a similar situation in training camp and didn’t leave his room. This time, everyone was out of the building for about 30 minutes before being allowed back in for more sleep.
"I don’t know what was going through my mind last night but I actually heard the alarm and thought it was something outside, so of course I laid my head back down to go back to sleep because I’m in a deep sleep," Robison said. "And then all of a sudden it just got annoying loud. So, yeah, had no choice but to get up then after that. I thought Zimmer was going to come out the front and talk about ‘midnight madness, let’s go.’"
Cassel had a similar feeling.
"I think Coach set that off, wanted to see who was mentally tough," he joked.
Alas, it wasn’t an initiation to Zimmer’s first camp.
"I told them they have to be aware of every situation that may come up, but, no, that was not me," Zimmer said, joking: "Now that I think about it, I wish it was. I’ll have to use it next year."
Three headed to PUP list: At the start of training camp, three players will begin on the physically unable to perform list.
Zimmer said Munnerlyn, safety Andrew Sendejo and tight end Chase Ford will start on the PUP list. Munnerlyn is dealing with a hamstring injury. Sendejo, who was held out of the offseason workouts, is still dealing with back and ankle injuries, which Zimmer said dates back to last season.
Ford, who arrived to training camp in a walking boot, had surgery for a broken foot.
Zimmer wouldn’t offer much of a timeframe on any of the players.
"It’s hard for me to say," Zimmer said. "I hate to put timelines on things, especially this early. I doubt (Munnerlyn) will be very long, but I don’t know."
Zimmer said one player didn’t pass the conditioning test Thursday, but didn’t reveal which player failed the test.
"He’s not practicing," Zimmer said.
Wide receivers added: Minnesota also made a series of roster moves for the first practices on Friday. The Vikings released receiver Josh Cooper and tackle Matt Hall. They signed receivers Andy Cruse and Ty Walker.
Cruse, 24, spent the first 10 weeks of last season with the Houston Texans’ practice squad as an undrafted free agent out of Miami (Ohio). A 6-foot-3, 216-pound receiver, Cruse was released by Houston in May.
Walker, 23, spent time last season on the practice squads for Green Bay and Seattle after going undrafted out of Illinois State. Walker (5-foot-10, 191 pounds) played in four preseason games with Green Bay.