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Cassel returns, practices with Patriots

By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / December 12, 2008
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SAN JOSE, Calif. - After leaving the team for a day because of the death of his father, Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel rejoined his teammates yesterday and practiced, a sign he is preparing to play Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.

Cassel returned home to Southern California Wednesday to help his family make arrangements for the funeral of his father, Greg, a former Hollywood script writer whose body was found Tuesday night in a San Bernardino mobile home. He was 57.

The funeral is Tuesday, the Patriots' usual offday, in Mission Hills, north of Los Angeles. It had originally been scheduled for Monday in Granada Hills. The timing would allow Cassel to play against the Raiders Sunday and still attend his father's service.

Cassel arrived at San Jose State University, where the Patriots are practicing this week, on the first bus from the team's Silicon Valley hotel. He did not speak with the media.

Cassel's teammates were happy to see him and seemed to hint that they expected him to play.

"Yeah, it's good to have him back after what happened to him," said left guard Logan Mankins. "I'm sure it's tough on him now. I'm sure he's going to fight through it and have a good week."

Sensitive to Cassel's situation, teammates pledged to do whatever they could to help their bereaved quarterback.

"Maybe being around the guys might ease [things] a bit," said fullback Heath Evans. "I don't know that for a fact. I know I just kind of wanted to wrap my arms around him [yesterday] morning and tell him I loved him. At this time, that's about the only thing you know to do. Hopefully, we can be of some encouragement to him and see how that helps him out."

Nose tackle Vince Wilfork, whose parents died in 2002 while he was at the University of Miami, sent Cassel a text message to let him know he was sorry for his loss and that he was there for Cassel if he wanted to talk.

"I've been through a similar situation with both of my parents, and I basically kind of left him alone," said Wilfork. "He thanked me for sending the message. I was just like, 'Hey, I'm here if you need me. I know what you're going through.' Some people handle it differently. He knows that he has a bunch of guys, brothers, on this team that are there for him with open arms. However he wants to express himself, he can do that. He knows he has [our support]."

Mankins, who spoke with Cassel as well, said he just let the quarterback know that "if he needs anything from anyone on the team, there are a lot of guys here for him."

Returning to the routine of preparing to play a football game could be cathartic for Cassel, a welcome distraction.

"Well, I think it will be good for Matt [to be around the team]," linebacker Mike Vrabel said. "We've got a support staff in there, and hopefully he can lean on his teammates."

After missing practice Wednesday, Cassel was on the field yesterday talking with coach Bill Belichick during the media portion of practice. He was not on the practice participation report.

Although Cassel was notified of his father's death Tuesday morning, he remained with the team Tuesday and departed Wednesday morning to be with his family.

The death of Cassel's father casts a pall on a storybook season for the quarterback. Since replacing the injured Tom Brady, he has become one of the league's best stories.

After not starting a game since high school, sitting behind Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart at Southern California and Brady his first three seasons in the NFL, Cassel has played well enough to put the Patriots in the thick of the playoff hunt. The Patriots (8-5) are in a three-way tie atop the AFC East.

Cassel's 64 percent completion rate (283 of 442) would rank as second best in franchise history. Last week, in a clutch come-from-behind win over the Seahawks, he became just the seventh player in team history to pass for more than 3,000 yards in a season. He has thrown for 3,052 yards with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Wide receiver Wes Welker said the team was glad to have Cassel back.

"Yeah, absolutely, I mean, obviously him being our quarterback now and the circumstances he had to face," said Welker. "He had to take care of his business. It's good to see him back out there competing. It's tough. It's never an easy deal. You just got to wish and hope the best for him and his family and support him in any way you can."

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com.

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