Kirk Cousins' NFL potential, as told by Michigan State's Mark Dantonio

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While preparing for its bowl game, Michigan State’s coaching staff took a brief break last weekend. Something special was happening for ex-quarterback Kirk Cousins at FedEx Field.

“We were in meetings and such; I came running in they said kirk was quarterback down the stretch,” Spartans coach Mike Dantonio said. “That was exciting for all of us because we all share in his moments there, of his opportunities he’s getting, his moments of happiness.”

Cousins had a moment in finishing off the Washington Redskins’ overtime victory against the Baltimore Ravens in relief of Robert Griffin III. Cousins will have another Sunday in Cleveland as he makes his first career NFL start at the Browns.

The Redskins announced the Cousins is expected to start over Griffin, who sprained the lateral collateral ligament in his right knee last week.

Teammates have espoused plenty of faith in Cousins’ ability to step in as the starter if need be, but Dantonio has seen it happen and knows the recipe for success.

“He’s very goal-oriented. And then attention to detail. And I think he’s a very confident young man,” Dantonio said in a phone interview Wednesday. “He’s mature beyond the college years he was here and he’s able to lead. He’s a tremendous leader on the field. … Physically I think he’s a gifted athlete, he’s got a great arm, all those different type of things. But I think playing quarterback a lot of times is more than just throwing the football. It comes down to the ability to lead and being able to get in and out of the right call and the decision-making process.”

Cousins made the right decisions against the Ravens, and those in the huddle when he entered the game in the fourth quarter never doubted his ability to lead.

In Cousins’ first pro action, Oct. 7 against the Atlanta Falcons when Griffin suffered a concussion, the fourth-round pick wasn’t as flawless. He had a touchdown pass but also threw two interceptions in the loss.

“I said after the Atlanta game that as much as I hated the result I would learn from it,” Cousins said earlier in the week. “You constantly, whether it’s a rep in practice or rep in the game, it doesn’t really matter the setting, you’re going to learn from it if you’re out there doing it and making a mistake. You’re going to try to prevent it in the future.”

Gleaning success from disappointment and missteps is a part of Cousins’ character that Dantonio singled out. Cousins had to compete for playing time with Nick Foles and Brian Hoyer in 2007 and, according to his coach at Michigan State, hit a plateau after some “early signs of greatness.”

“What I saw was that ability to sustain and not give in, being able to keep his composure and his confidence and be upbeat,” Dantonio said. “That’s unique, I think, for a young player at that age. He was a redshirt sophomore when he started [leading]; he did that for three years for us. And then obviously the more success he has the more confident you become and more at-ease. I think you succeed when you’re at ease.”

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