Matt Cassel, Cowboys receivers making up for lost time

IRVING, Texas -- Cole Beasley did the math quickly, adding up the practices the Dallas Cowboys will have with Matt Cassel before they take on the New York Giants on Oct. 25.

“Five practices with him,” Beasley said, sitting at his locker, “so actually I think that’ll be plenty of time, you know? We’ll see.”

No sport claims the importance of an offseason filled with on-field teaching sessions, organized team activities, a minicamp and training camp and then completely dismisses it when it doesn’t fit the narrative more than football.

The Cowboys’ switch to Cassel over Brandon Weeden isn’t the wrong move. That will be judged on the results for however many games he starts, which will make it the ultimate second guess. But the Cowboys had to do something offensively.

So they turn to a quarterback who didn’t join their team until Sept. 22, was inactive for the first two games he was on the roster, served as Weeden’s backup last week against the New England Patriots and did not throw a pass in team drills to Beasley, Terrance Williams or Jason Witten until Wednesday.

Talk about making up for lost time.

The Cowboys will start their bye week this afternoon after their final practice of the week. They will not be due back to Valley Ranch until next Tuesday.

Williams called Wednesday’s work with Cassel a good start. During the portion of practice open to the media, Cassel took all of the reps in routes without defenders, throwing down the field to Williams, in the middle to Witten and in the slot to Beasley.

“Basically my job is to find throws for him and present a wide-open target for him,” Williams said. “I think that’s the best way I can put it is whenever Scott [Linehan] or Matt calls a play, no matter what’s going on, I need to get him a good throw and just like the rest of the receivers do because we need to make it as simple for him by running good routes and getting open for him. The more confident he’ll get, the better off we’ll be.”

Weeden lost his job because the receivers did not win enough outside for him during the three-game losing streak. When they did win, he didn’t find them. The field shrunk. Opposing defenses did not need to worry about the deep or intermediate throws. An extra defender did not have to leave the box, which made it more difficult to run the ball.

“The guys in this room can win ball games,” Cassel said. “There’s no doubt about it. As I said this before, we collectively have to put together a better effort all around in terms of we’ve got to complement each other both offensively, defensively and special teams.”

Cassel is in his fourth week of learning the Cowboys’ offense. He feels comfortable in the concepts and adjustments. He is starting to speak the language more, but it is still on four weeks of knowledge. If the offseason matters as much as the coaches say it does, then it would be impossible for Cassel to know everything he needs to know.

The best he can do is speed up the learning curve. He was doing that in the games.

“I’d always call the play out loud when I get it in my little ear piece,” Cassel said. “I’d call it out loud. And then I’d watch the game, try to make an imaginary (middle linebacker) point as I’m watching the game and then go through my read as if I was playing. The more mental reps, the more times that you see it unfold, I think the better you’re going to be and more equipped you’re going to be when it comes your time.”

Cassel said the focus will start to shift from understanding the offense to looking more at the Giants and getting a game plan together. His time off during the bye week might be different than his teammates, who will get away.

As much as Cassel has to learn the offense and his receivers, the receivers have to learn him.

“Quarterbacks throw the ball differently,” Beasley said. “It’s a different kind of ball. It looks different coming out of his hand but that won’t take too long to get used to. We’ll probably be used to it by next week.”

They don’t have a choice.