Stamps linebacker cheering for Pats' Cassel

WES GILBERTSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:38 AM ET

You can count Calgary Stampeders linebacker Matt Grootegoed among the believers.

The skeptics aren't so sure the New England Patriots will survive without star pivot Tom Brady, but Grootegoed figures backup Matt Cassel, his former USC Trojans teammate, can keep the defending AFC champions among the NFL's elite.

"Given the chance, I think he's going to surprise a lot of people," said Grootegoed, a four-year starter at Southern California. "He's proven to be a great backup and to be the guy who, if somebody goes down, he can go in and you don't lose a step, so I think they're in good hands."

Brady, a two-time Super Bowl MVP, limped off the field after absorbing a hit in the Patriots' season-opener Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs. He'll require surgery on his right knee and will miss the remainder of the season.

Enter Cassel, 26, who hasn't started a game since high school, playing second fiddle to a steady stream of stars. He rode shotgun at USC for current Cincinnati Bengals signal-caller Carson Palmer and Arizona Cardinals backup Matt Leinart and has been holding the clipboard for Brady for four campaigns.

"I'd like to see him go out there and kick some butt," Grootegoed said. "I guarantee you he's jacked up. He's the kind of guy who lives off that. He thrives off getting the chance. He thrives off the doubt people have."

During Grootegoed's tenure at USC, the squad won four straight Pac-10 titles and one national crown (2004). The Huntington Beach, Calif., product was named to the all-conference team twice and was a captain in his final season.

He's one of numerous ex-Trojans earning his paycheque on the gridiron. Several of Grootegoed's college battery-mates are NFL stars, including Palmer and New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush and defensive stalwarts Lofa Tatupu (Seattle Seahawks) and Troy Polamalu (Pittsburgh Steelers).


Photos