On Wednesday, nearly six months after he signed the three-year, $84 million deal with the Vikings that made him one of the biggest stories of the NFL offseason, Kirk Cousins was in the final stages of a seemingly interminable holding pattern, still a few days from the first of the 16 games he said would define his standing in Minnesota.
So Cousins found refuge in the same place he usually does: his love of process.
“As I’ve said in April, we can’t play the game right now,” Cousins said. “We can just go to Phase 1 of OTAs and do our best to learn the offense, and now I’m in Wednesday of Week 1. I can’t play the game today, so there’s no point in being antsy.”
He will be on the field in a regular-season game at last on Sunday, when the Vikings begin the year at U.S. Bank Stadium, against a San Francisco 49ers team that closed 2017 on a five-game win streak and a head coach (Kyle Shanahan) who was Cousins’ offensive coordinator his first two years in the NFL.
With Pat Elflein set to miss Sunday’s game following offseason ankle and shoulder surgeries, Cousins will be without his presumptive starting center, too. Coach Mike Zimmer would not say on Wednesday whom the Vikings will start on Sunday, though Cousins was working with Brett Jones in individual drills during the Vikings’ practice on Wednesday, and hinted on Wednesday morning that Jones would start.
“Just like Brett’s not going to drop back and throw the ball for me, I’m not going to make his calls for him but after the walkthroughs, after the practices, I’m going to say to him I’d like the call to be different there or what were you doing there and then obviously by Sunday he’ll be very comfortable on making those calls. We’re going to coach him all week and then he’s going to play center in the NFL like he’s done for a lot of games already.”
When Cousins hits the field with his new team on Sunday, he’ll match up for the second time in his career with the man who helped mold him during his first two years in the NFL: Kyle Shanahan, who was the Redskins’ offensive coordinator when the team drafted Cousins in 2012.
Cousins said Wednesday he “could be here a long time on how Kyle developed me as a player. I don’t know that the answer would do it justice.”
The Redskins took Cousins with the 102nd overall pick in 2012, two days after they’d made Robert Griffin III the second overall choice. That meant Cousins was drafted to be a backup, but Shanahan on Wednesday praised the way Cousins approached his job even though the Redskins were fully committed to Griffin during Cousins’ first two years in Washington.
“He didn’t sit there and sulk even though it wasn’t the best situation for him,” Shanahan said. “I’ve been very happy for him. It’s always been tough because I’ve always had mixed emotions about Washington. So, when I watched them, there’s always been a lot of players I’ve pulled for there and Kirk’s been one of them.
“I felt like he’s the guy who gave [the Redskins] a chance to win for about four years. So, I was really happy for him doing that and I’m even more happy that he’s out of there doing it for someone else. I just hope it’s not Sunday.”
Cousins threw for 330 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while running for another score, in the Redskins’ 26-24 win over Shanahan’s 49ers a year ago. The time he’s logged against defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s unit provides him some familiarity with how the 49ers will attack him, just as Shanahan brings plenty of background knowledge on Cousins to the matchup.
“I think he certainly has some familiarity, and that can help, but at the same time — I’ve thought about this before with other situations,” Cousins said. “I’ve gone against this defensive scheme several times. It doesn’t make you feel like you’ve got it all figured out. If knowing certain players or certain coaches was the difference maker, then you wouldn’t see some of these guys have success so much when their coaches leave. I’m sure you tell your team some level of personnel ability and background and where they’re coming from and the way they play the game, but at the end of the day you’ve just got to go out and play.”
Cousins, at last, will get to do that on Sunday. And finally, the long wait to see what all the fuss is about will be over.