Vikings try to stay centered, as Cousins debuts in opener
EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings will show off their shiny new quarterback in the season opener, formally turning over the on-field leadership of a team built for Super Bowl contention to Kirk Cousins and his fully guaranteed $84 million contract.
The player directly in front of Cousins, his importance not to be understated, will likely be making his debut with the Vikings at the same time. Brett Jones has been in Minnesota for less than two weeks, but he’s on track to start at center Sunday when the Vikings host the San Francisco 49ers. He’ll have as much on his plate as anyone wearing purple.
“Kirk’s an excellent communicator. He wants things done a certain way, and you’ve got to be able to try to the best of your ability to try to emulate what he wants,” Jones said. “Anytime there’s a new center, you want to try to have consistency, so I’m just doing what I’m told and making sure we’re all on the same page so whoever’s in there can adjust and play well so the Vikings can have success.”
Pat Elflein, who performed relatively well as a rookie, just began practicing with the team this week. The Vikings have lost their primary starting guards from last year, Nick Easton to injury and Joe Berger to retirement. So, for all the enhancements the Vikings have made to a roster they reached the NFC championship game with last winter, the offensive line lost more than it gained over the offseason.
“It’s not ideal, but it is what it is,” Cousins said. “We’re not going to dwell on what we can’t control. We’re going to focus on what we have and making the best out of it, and I’m excited to build a rapport with Jones and the rest of the O-line so that hopefully we can develop a continuity as the season goes on.”
Elflein wore a helmet and full pads at practice Wednesday, but he was listed as a limited participant on the injury report. Considering Elflein was just removed from the physically unable to perform list four days prior, coming off ankle and shoulder surgeries earlier in the year, the chance of him being cleared to play against the 49ers is slim. That leaves Jones, who was acquired in a trade on Aug. 26 with the New York Giants , in the center of attention.
“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,” Cousins said.
While there’s some justifiable concern about using a center who’s never snapped the ball to Cousins in a game setting, the chemistry between Jones and the guards and tackles on either side of him is probably even more critical.
“Each person relies on the other person,” Jones said. “If one person does one thing bad on offense, it’s a glaring tackle in the hole for a loss. If one guy does something bad on defense, you might have a backer or a safety or somebody come down and cover you. On offense, one mistake can be a big mistake.”
Danny Isidora, who started one game at left guard as an injury replacement for Easton last season as a rookie, has also been taking turns at center. Coach Mike Zimmer said recently he thinks that might actually be Isidora’s natural position.
“He stays in balance pretty well there. He keeps his hips square. He’s got some power on the double teams,” Zimmer said.
NOTES: Cousins was chosen this week as one of six team captains for the season, with left tackle Riley Reiff, tight end Kyle Rudolph, defensive tackle Linval Joseph, defensive end Everson Griffen, and linebacker Anthony Barr. ... Cornerback Mackensie Alexander, in line to be the primary slot man in the nickel package, did not practice Wednesday because of an ankle injury. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes (hamstring) and Reiff (foot) were listed as limited participants.