Kirk Cousins' process in becoming a franchise quarterback in Minnesota is all-encompassing. The comprehensive nature of that job requires an immense amount of buy-in and time. That's something Cousins didn't hesitate to give up when coaches asked him and the other quarterbacks to stay late after meetings.
"I looked at him and said, 'I have no life here. I'm here to play football for the Minnesota Vikings. I don't have a whole lot else going on. You let me know. I'll be here,'" said Cousins, who turned 30 on Sunday. "I found that to be true on my birthday as well. I sit around, I have the free time, but I don't really know what to do."
That process is ongoing. It's something that's difficult to encapsulate in the vacuum of the preseason when he's constantly asked to quantify the progress he's made and how much longer it's going to take before he has it all together.
As Cousins continues to evolve within the Vikings' offense, he reminds himself that it's OK not to have all the answers just yet.
"I remember when we played the Patriots in 2015, I just asked Tom [Brady], 'At what point did it start clicking for you?'" Cousins recalled. "Essentially what I am asking him was, 'At what point did you have it completely figured out?' He said, 'It's still clicking. It's still a process.' I've always taken that with me and felt like every day I come out here I pick up something new. I sharpen a skill. It will always be that way until the day I retire. Certainly, when you're in your first year in an offense and haven't played in a real game yet, there is a lot more sharpening to do than Year 5 or 6. If you are asking am I ready to go and ready to play at a high level, I do think that is where I need to be and that is what I like to think where I am."
Learning a new system with a new team is all-encompassing for Kirk Cousins, who was up for some overtime with other QBs on the night of his birthday.
It's similar for offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, whose disappointment in the offense failing to establish a rhythm against Jacksonville last Saturday is a responsibility he shoulders.
"There's a couple plays that I would like to have back," DeFilippo said, noting his call on a naked bootleg in the first quarter where Cousins was sacked by Yannick Ngakoue. "I wouldn't say that I disliked the whole way I called the game. I think there's always two or three plays, whether you win or lose.
"I go back personally and watch the game several times and say, 'Hey, what calls did I like, what calls did I not like, did I put the team in harm's way?' You go back and you self-evaluate yourself after every game whether it is the preseason, the regular season, or playoffs, it really doesn't matter. I think if you don't do that you're not getting better and you're not putting the football team in the best chance for success."
The progression of the Vikings' offense through the first two preseason games is dictated by a dual effort from the two most important pieces of that unit. Cousins' first year in a new offense will undoubtedly feature ups and downs as he works to master DeFilippo's system. Judging progress from a small sample size is difficult, especially when picking apart the pieces of the offense when the first-team unit was together for only four series against the Jaguars.
Instead of nitpicking every part of a nonconsequential performance he wasn't proud of, Cousins looks to the preseason to smooth out the ancillary stuff like sideline communication with his OC so there aren't any hitches when these games start to count.
"When you are on the sideline, you have a lot of noise coming in as opposed to when you're in the box. I may say, 'Hey, when that call came in, you were yelling because it's loud in the stadium, but I can hear you just fine. In the headset, it is going to come through clearer if you just say it clearly,'" Cousins said. "So there are little tidbits I can give him like that. Again, he is very coachable, listens, which is awesome. There are other times where then he, coming off of a series, can say to me, 'Hey, what were you doing with your feet there or why didn't you work the X? He was open.' There can be more direct communication there rather than having to get on the phone and talk to him up in the box. It's a little more personal on the sideline."
He also discussed the challenges that come with a handful of moving parts on the offensive line and what that presented to him as a playcaller.
"I wouldn't say it's limited [me], and I hate to use the word cautious, but I think you need to make sure that you got the right protection on and you're making sure the quarterback is getting the ball out of his hand and you're running the right route combinations to give the quarterback a chance to get the ball out of his hand," DeFilippo said. "Let's call it what it is, this is preseason football. Obviously we want to protect our quarterbacks and everybody as much as we can. I wouldn't say it hampers you, but it definitely challenges you a little bit, there's no doubt. I'd be lying here if I said it didn't."
The third preseason game, dubbed the dress rehearsal for Week 1, often comes with the more playing time for the starters. Though that will paint a better picture given the length of time the first-team offense will be together, there will still be questions after the Vikings face the Seahawks, and that's OK.
"Still hard to tell," Cousins said of the offense. "But in practice we trade blows with the defense. We go down here on a drive and score but then they may have a great play and stop us on another period of practice. You just trade blows back and forth and it's hard to know where you are as a team. It's hard to simulate game day and the way an offense needs to operate just in practice. We do our best but that's why I think it does take the first few weeks of the regular season to really evaluate where you are as a team, as an offense."
Source: ESPN | Courtney Cronin | August 23, 2018