As Kirk Cousins prepared to board a plane bound for the Twin Cities on Tuesday afternoon, his phone lit up with a text message from Adam Thielen.
“[He] said, ‘Hey, can you get in early so we can throw?’ ” Cousins recalled. “I said my arrival time is not going to give me any time to do that, but he wants to work. On off days, he’s trying to find ways to get out here. I said, ‘I don’t even know what the rules are about you coming here and catching before [veterans report to training camp] on Friday.’ He said, ‘I think we can. I’ll find a way.’ ”
Such are the reasons Cousins seems so comfortable only 4½ months after he signed with the Vikings. Questions about his future were put to rest with the three-year, $84 million contract he received in March, and his status as the organizational alpha dog is not in doubt after several years of uncertainty with the Redskins. At this point, at least, there’s little for the 29-year-old quarterback to worry about other than bonding with players who seem as invigorated by football minutiae as he is.
“Those guys are just easy to work with,” Cousins said. “They’re easy to lead, too, because they are so excited about football and they love playing this game. There are people in this league who love what football brings them, but they don’t really love football. We’ve got a lot of guys on this team who really love football, regardless of what it brings them and that’s obviously fun to work with and play with.”
Cousins spoke to reporters for the first time at training camp Thursday, after arriving for two days of work with the Vikings’ other quarterbacks and their rookies. He said his six-week break between minicamp and training camp allowed him to do “everything I wanted to do”; he moved into his new house on the shores of Lake Michigan, and had time to revisit the areas of the Vikings’ playbook he’d needed to touch again after this spring.
As the quarterback worked in two days of light practices before the Vikings’ first full-team session Saturday, new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said he could see the difference between Cousins in June and Cousins in July.
“Kirk, he’s a confident guy, but I can see his confidence in what we’re doing, and usually that confidence is gained by your knowledge and feeling comfortable in what you’re doing,” DeFilippo said. “If I’m playing golf, and all of a sudden I’m trying to pitch-and-run an 8-iron and I’m not used to doing that, I mean, I need some practice at that. It’s just like going into a new offense.”
It helps the entire team, too, when the quarterback has no doubt about whether he’s in charge, DeFilippo said.
“This is something I truly believe in: If there’s a quarterback competition, you don’t have one, OK? You don’t have one,” he said. “I’ve been at spots before where there is quarterback competition, and you’re worried, because neither guy is really stepping in front of the other one and separating himself from the other guy.
“We don’t have that here, and I think we exude that confidence in Kirk. I think he exudes that confidence in us, and we’re really looking forward to him playing well this year.”
Cousins won’t have his entire starting offense in front of him during the Vikings’ first full practice, with center Pat Elflein still on the physically-unable-to-perform list after offseason shoulder and ankle surgeries and running back Dalvin Cook still taking limited snaps after tearing a knee ligament last October.
But Cousins will have the framework of an offense that will be his to lead, and a more detailed knowledge of the scheme he is expected to master. That, to him, sounds like a pretty good starting point.
“At some point you have to be given a license to lead,” he said. “You have to be given permission to take charge and when you’re still having internal competition, it’s hard to do that. I’ve been in those situations in the past, going back to college, where I didn’t know if I would start and so it was hard to really assert my personality in the locker room because I didn’t want to step on the toes of the other people. When you know your role, and it’s been defined, you can then lead from a place of greater comfort. I think that helps the overall dynamic.”