MIAMI: The New England Patriots began life without Tom Brady on Tuesday, with two free-agent quarterbacks visiting the team, but it will be long-term back-up Matt Cassel who starts against the New York Jets on Sunday.
Cassel, who has yet to start in over three seasons with the Patriots, will finally get his chance after two-time Superbowl MVP Brady was ruled out for the season with a knee injury.
But already, with speculation about a possible signing, Cassel faces intense scrutiny and pressure.
Patriots coach Bill Belichik confirmed on Tuesday that former Tampa starter Chris Simms and Tim Rattay, released by the Arizona Cardinals, had both visited the club but were sent away.
"They visited but we didn't give them a physical and we didn't work them out. I didn't even see them while they were here. They did visit. They did come in, but we didn't end up doing anything with them. We sent them back," he said.
Cassel, a seventh-round draft pick in 2005 who has not started a game since he played in high school, will now get his chance after a professional career so far backing-up Brady.
He spent his college career at the University of Southern California as a back-up to Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer, now with the Cincinnati Bengals, and Matt Leinart, currently with the Arizona Cardinals.
Cassel, who completed 13 of 18 passes for 152 yards and one touchdown after replacing Brady in Sunday's win against Kansas City, faces the charge that he does not have enough "real game" experience but Belichik defended the 26-year-old.
"He started all four pre-season games and he has played quite a bit of football for us," he said.
"He played more than any other quarterback, by far, in the pre-season and has taken a lot of snaps in training camp. I think that is the best preparation he could have for this year.
"I think from an overall standpoint, going back to July and even in the spring, he has had a lot of reps. He'll get some game opportunity this week."
Should he fail to make the most of that opportunity there will be intense pressure on the Patriots to go quickly for an experienced player, given that the third quarterback is rookie Kevin O'Connell - a talent the franchise will want to protect.
One player whose name is already being linked with New England is former Oakland Raiders playmaker Daunte Culpepper, who announced his retirement last week after failing to find a new team during the off-season.
Culpepper played with Patriots wide-receiver Randy Moss at the Minnesota Vikings.
Grooming a new arrival in the team's playbook will take time but Belichik said it was a possible longer-term solution.
"It's a long season. We've got 15 regular season games left, so I don't think that bringing a player in and him taking two, three, four or five weeks to be fairly efficient in the system is out of the question. That would be a possibility."
Source: China Daily/Agencies