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Cowboys hope to feed off Matt Cassel's presence

IRVING, Texas -- The first day Matt Cassel walked into the Dallas Cowboys locker room, he looked the part.

Big and tall, he displayed the confident gait of a quarterback who had led a team to the playoffs and played in a Pro Bowl. As he was about to talk, a reporter noticed he had some food in his teeth.

Cassel offered up a thanks and a high-five. Appearance matters.

So does presence.

Cassel takes over as the Cowboys' starting quarterback Sunday against the New York Giants, replacing Brandon Weeden, who replaced an injured Tony Romo for three games.

He has started 72 games in his career, including this year's season opener for the Buffalo Bills with Tyrod Taylor lined up at wide receiver. He did not throw a pass and played only one snap in the win against the Indianapolis Colts.

He has 96 touchdown passes and 70 interceptions. He has thrown for more than 15,000 yards.

"There's no question that he has a presence and a confidence about him that's a positive thing," coach Jason Garrett said. "Quarterbacks need to have that. The energy that they have pervades the whole offense and pervades the whole football team. You're an experienced guy who's played and you've been through some different experiences both good and bad and you come out the other end and you're still going, I think that allows you to have some confidence in yourself. He's seen a lot of different things in this league. I think he's going to add a lot to our football team."

When the Cowboys traded for Cassel, he was told the starting job was Weeden's. But he carried himself like a starter.

"I think you have to," said Cassel, who is in his 11th year. "I think that's why I had longevity in this league is that if you perceive yourself as somebody who's just in a backup role and happy to be there, then I don't think you ever strive to get better, you know? You always have to push yourself. I think your mentality, even if you are in that backup role, has to be that you've got to prepare like a starter and be ready to go at any moment. Because your opportunity could come up."

Last week Cassel was introduced as their new starting quarterback and he practiced twice with the first group, but Wednesday marked the first time he had taken team snaps with a game plan in hand. He has spent the past month learning the Cowboys' offense.

"He's definitely out there taking command of the huddle and just being in charge, so to speak," wide receiver Cole Beasley said. "He definitely has a confidence about him and he brings it to the huddle. That's a good thing to see. Anytime the quarterback has that, it rubs off on the rest of the guys."

In 2008, Cassel walked into a huddle having to replace Tom Brady, who was lost in the season opener with a knee injury. He threw just 33 passes at USC as he backed up Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. The New England Patriots drafted him in the seventh round in 2005. He learned from Brady, but he also learned from veterans Doug Flutie and Vinny Testaverde too.

He went 10-5 in 2008 but the Patriots' 11-5 mark wasn't good enough to make the playoffs. In 2010, he led the Kansas City Chiefs to a 10-6 record and the playoffs with a career-high 27 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions.

It hasn't been as good since. The Chiefs released him in 2013 and he signed with the Minnesota Vikings the next day. He was the starter for all five of the Vikings' wins that season, but a foot injury ended his season after three games last season and Teddy Bridgewater moved from the quarterback of the future to the quarterback of the present.

The Vikings traded Cassel to Buffalo, but Taylor won the training camp competition.

"You try to carry yourself as a professional and me being a veteran hopefully the younger guys look up to that and see that's how you're supposed to work and go about your business," Cassel said. "And again, I had great veteran leadership around me when I was a rookie and I give them a lot of credit for how I prepare and how I go about my business now."

Sunday will be Cassel's 73rd career start. He did not know he would get a chance to start again. He is glad it's here but he's not in awe of what's ahead.

"You practice and play the game to play on Sunday," Cassel said. "It's more exciting than anything else to me; the competitiveness and also being able to go out there and being able to compete on Sundays. So I don't take it as [being] nervous or anything like that. I take it as, 'All right, let's get going. It's time to go.'"