Kirk Cousins has been around long enough to know what's coming.

The Cardinals sent a heavy blitz on the first day of joint practices with the Vikings last month. Almost instantly, Cousins found its match in a mental database that's indexed many of his 9,986 NFL snaps with stunning clarity.

Jonathan Gannon, now Arizona's head coach, was the Eagles' defensive coordinator when he called a similar blitz against the Vikings last September; Cousins remembered he was forced to throw the ball away when he looked toward a covered Dalvin Cook and "my tight end to my left was standing borderline wide open." The memory was especially clear because of how much the missed throw irritated him. This time, he corrected the mistake and found the tight end.

"Well, then we go back and watch it," Cousins said. "And [the coaches] made the point that, 'Hey, this [blitz] came from so much depth, and it was picked up in such a way, there's probably another throw you could have taken.' "

Coach Kevin O'Connell later smiled and confirmed there was, in fact, a deeper throw open on the play.

"When I say you start to know where all the bones are buried [in the offense], that's what I'm talking about," Cousins said. "You love those 400-level discussions. Getting to a place in my career where you can start to have them is exciting."

The quarterback, drafted in 2012 to be a backup, has carried his improbable story into its 12th season and arrived at a kind of pinnacle, where he has more experience than almost all of his peers, the people optimizing an offense for him are at last familiar faces, and fans are perhaps warming to him after Netflix's "Quarterback" series highlighted his thoughtfulness and toughness.

Cousins this year has the offensive continuity he has long sought. O'Connell is the first play-caller he's had in back-to-back seasons since Sean McVay in 2015-16, while offensive coordinator Wes Phillips and quarterbacks coach Chris O'Hara also return. Cousins turned 35 on Aug. 19, with teammates serenading him in the U.S. Bank Stadium locker room after the Vikings' preseason game against Tennessee, and has played more regular-season snaps than all but three current NFL starters (Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Russell Wilson).

He will pass Daunte Culpepper on Sunday for the third-most regular-season quarterback starts in Vikings history. Cousins holds team records for quarterbacks in their 30s in completion percentage (67.8%), passing yards (20,934), touchdowns (153), passer rating (100.9) and success rate (48.5%).

Cousins has built his own version of the approach that helped Tom Brady play until age 45. He brought Chad Cook, his longtime performance coach, from Atlanta to Minnesota full-time this season. He works with Cook three times a day, six days a week, at his house in Inver Grove Heights, to maintain muscle stability as he ages and bring his body back to full capacity after a particularly taxing game.

He believes there's silver to be mined if he can keep his body consistent while his mind only gets sharper.

"I heard a quote from Tom Brady a few years ago. He said, 'I'm only getting better as a quarterback [as I age]. Mentally, emotionally, my leadership, everything is better,' " Cousins said in an interview last week. "And that hit home with me. I'm going, 'Wait a minute: If I can still make all the throws, I can take the hits and stay healthy, I can still move, I'm way better at 38 than I was at 28.' "

Where Cousins will play beyond this season is uncertain, after the Vikings added two void years to his contract for salary cap relief when talks on a long-term deal fizzled this spring. The team has not ruled out bringing him back for 2024, and Cousins has maintained his goal is to retire in Minnesota, but his contract expires in six months.

Uncertainty notwithstanding, Cousins has seemed every bit the cheery camp counselor in 2023 he was in 2022. He hosted a backyard bonfire, took teammates out for dinners at Chili's, broke up camp doldrums with silly events like Mustache Monday and addressed the entire team on the first night of training camp (at O'Connell's request) about what it takes to build a long NFL career.

"I love that he feels he can just be himself," O'Connell said. "And I think people are liking what they see. Because I've known him for a long time now, and I've always thought the best environment for him is one where he can just be Kirk Cousins."

His destination beyond this year is a question for another day. Cousins seems focused on soaking up what he has now, in every way he can do it.

Phillips said one day last month O'Connell was down in the training room while Cousins was getting a massage, asking the quarterback for his thoughts for the two-minute offense.

"Kirk wants every bit of information you can possibly give him," Philips added. "And it pushes us, as well."

'When I feel good, I lead better'

Cousins has worked with Cook for nearly a decade, after Cousins' longtime mentor, Michigan-based physical therapist Gary Gray, introduced them. They trained together when Cousins would visit his wife Julie's family in Atlanta each offseason, and Cousins started bringing Cook up north for more in-person work the past two summers.

It spurred conversations about a full-time partnership; Cousins flew to Tampa, Fla., two years ago to ask Alex Guerrero, Brady's personal trainer, about how their arrangement had worked. Before this season, Cousins and Cook discussed the schedules they would use during the season and the offseason, how they could work in concert, not competition, with the Vikings' athletic training staff and how Cook's family felt about the idea.

Cook's daughter Kendall is a senior soccer player at Mercer University in Macon, Ga. When the Vikings are off or on the road, Cook heads home to attend Kendall's games with his wife Jen. The rest of the time, he catches her games on ESPN Plus and chats with her on FaceTime afterward.

If Kendall was still in high school, Cook said, "it probably would have been really hard. But my wife and daughter have gotten to know the Cousins [family] really well. They have a ton of respect for them. They were 100 percent in."

Cook meets Cousins at his house around 6:45 a.m. for an hourlong session to activate his muscles and stimulate his neuromuscular system before he heads to the Vikings facility. Cousins returns home at lunchtime each day for a brief session "so he can go out for practice and really test his limits on what he wants to do for games," Cook said. Their last session of the day comes around 8:30 p.m., with more muscle activation and neuromuscular stimulation to help him sleep better and recover effectively.

This summer, Cook said, Cousins emerged from a windswept Vikings practice and told him, "I just overthrew our fastest person on a deep route."

The Vikings started tracking what was going on, Cook added, and "he's like, 'That's better than my personal best [in both distance and velocity], and I'm 35.' "

Cousins was hit more than any QB in the NFL last season, and "Quarterback" chronicled his efforts to recover from weekly blows that locked his body up. When he retires, he said, he wants to walk away knowing, "I could go back and throw for 4,500 next year if I wanted to."

He's realized his quest for pristine health has benefits beyond game day, too.

"What was more important is that I feel good: not just games, but practice," Cousins said. "Because when I feel good, I lead better. I have more fun. I'm more engaged. I'm less stressed when I go home. The days I'm really hurting, it's hard for me to be upbeat. It's hard for me to be a leader. It's hard for me to be thinking about other people. It's hard for me to be a great dad or husband. Because I kind of just have this cloud of, 'I'm in a lot of pain.' "

'More up ahead'

The debates about Cousins — over his lack of postseason success, his short throw for T.J. Hockenson on a do-or-die fourth down in last January's playoff loss, or his NFL future — rage on outside TCO Performance Center. Inside the Vikings' headquarters, he's earned gravitas with younger players by quietly building an unusual career.

Only eight quarterbacks drafted in the fourth round or later have started more games than Cousins' 137. He could pass Mark Brunell (151) for fifth on that list this season. By the middle of 2024, he could surpass Bart Starr (157) and Matt Hasselbeck (160) and rank behind only Brady and Johnny Unitas.

Players sat at rapt attention as Cousins shared his thoughts on the keys to NFL success. It worked, Phillips said, because Cousins' longevity grants him an audience.

"That speech was awesome," Phillips said. "I also know all that stuff wouldn't matter if these guys didn't know how well he throws the football. If you can play, they'll be behind you. Our receivers know how good Kirk is. People can say whatever. There are quarterbacks in this league that cannot get you the ball, and they understand they have one that can."

After bringing his 5-year-old son Cooper into the locker room following the Vikings' 33-point comeback win over the Colts to clinch the NFC North title, Cousins spoke about extending his career to the point his two boys can remember it.

How much longer will that be? He has been around long enough to know he can't predict what's coming.

He points to the fact he won't see Rodgers at Lambeau Field this year as evidence the NFL's business spares no one from change. To assume anything beyond a current season, Cousins said, is foolish.

But his improbable 12-year career, which began on Day 3 of the NFL draft, has defied expectations so far. He sees it an answer to what his family has prayed for him, quoting Ephesians 3:20 — "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all that we could ask or imagine" — before every game since his time at Michigan State.

"I think there may still be more up ahead," he said.

Moments like the one last week — when Cousins picked up Cooper from Lifetime Fitness and the staff gently tried to keep kids from crowding him for autographs before his son looked at him and abruptly shouted, "It's fine; he doesn't mind!" — provide reminders of how far he's come.

This season, Cousins' sixth with the Vikings, will have much to say about how he's remembered in Minnesota. If it's true he's found some kind of little oasis, he wants to make the most of it.

"He's got the experience. He knows exactly who he is as a player," O'Connell said. "He knows what he's capable of, which is a lot, and he knows he's got a coach who supports him to go raise his standards as our leader on offense."