A year ago, nearly everything was new to Kirk Cousins when he reported to training camp as the Vikings quarterback. From the best driving route to Eagan to his receivers’ favorite routes on the field, Cousins was tasked with assimilating himself into a new environment, new team and new playbook.
The 2019 Vikings also have no shortage of new for Cousins. Last year’s disappointing offense was picked apart, with an offseason producing new offensive linemen, a new tight end, new running back and another new playbook alongside first-year assistant head coach Gary Kubiak and three new assistant coaches.
Two things have not changed — their Super Bowl aspirations and one relationship critical for the success of this Vikings team.
As offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski and Cousins embark on a nearly monthlong training camp that began this week in Eagan, they have a relationship and foundation on which to build this new Vikings offense. Stefanski, Cousins’ quarterbacks coach for much of last season, was the coordinator candidate Cousins lobbied for in the wake of John DeFilippo’s firing.
“That only helps when there’s an understanding and healthy respect with each other,” said Stefanski, entering his 14th season with the Vikings. “It’s my job to do that with all of our players. I wouldn’t want to just do that with the quarterback, but I understand that the play-caller and the quarterback have to have a relationship.”
Cousins and Stefanski have worked closely together during two days of meetings and practices limited to rookies and quarterbacks. NFL rules allow Vikings veterans to report Thursday.
The meetings are slowed down for rookies. Practices take on a walkthrough-like pace. Within the methodical runway to Friday’s first full training camp practice, Cousins said Stefanski has been a refreshing liaison for him between the slew of new coaches, led by Kubiak, to the team's new talent.
“He’s been here and knows the players, and their strengths, and what coach [Mike] Zimmer wants,” Cousins said. “That really helps the continuity.”
Having been around each other for a year, Cousins and Stefanski can speak a similar football language. But one of Stefanski’s first acts as coordinator this spring impressed Cousins.
He arrived in April to a Vikings playbook that features Kubiak’s terminology, or the verbiage and play calls he used in Denver with quarterback Peyton Manning.
Stefanski, Cousins said, could have forced his way and made Kubiak and his assistants learn his own way of communicating, but he didn’t.
“That’s leadership — to make an executive decision,” Cousins said. “But he’s self-aware, and he understands the best way for everybody to work together.
‘‘In that situation, he felt it was best to use the terminology that most of the staff already knew.”
Newly installed offenses can sputter under the summer sun if communication isn’t consistent among coaches or misunderstood by a quarterback. During last year’s training camp, at least once a flustered Zimmer ordered Cousins and DeFilippo to redo a two-minute drill that wasn’t executed quickly enough while communication broke down.
General Manager Rick Spielman said he’s seen a “totally different” situation for Cousins as he learns a new playbook, which deploys concepts similar to ones Cousins saw in his Washington seasons.
“Just watching him, from an evaluation standpoint, through the OTAs and stuff, it was totally different from him coming in last year and trying to learn a whole new system,” Spielman said.
“They will do things to make sure he is comfortable in the offense that will fit his strengths as a quarterback.”
The Vikings hope a more comfortable Cousins, amid many alterations around him, will also change their win totals in the regular season and possibly beyond.
“Hopefully you’re laying a good foundation and hopefully it shows on Sundays,” Cousins said. “But the nature of this next month and a half, whether it’s really good or really bad, it really isn’t what the narrative becomes on you. You have to translate that into a very good season.”