Kirk Cousins grew up a Chicago Bears fan and remembers going to Soldier Field as a kid. He and his father, Don, froze their way through subzero temperatures to watch the Bears, and quarterback Rex Grossman, beat the Atlanta Falcons one Sunday night in December 2005.
A lot has changed since then, and when the Washington Redskins face the Bears in their second preseason game Saturday, Cousins will be playing on the field he grew up admiring. He'll also be behind the quarterback he watched that night, Grossman, on the Redskins' depth chart.
Consider it a childhood dream fulfilled.
"I told Rex, I was a Bears fan growing up. I remember when he was drafted and I was a quarterback in middle school at the time," the Michigan State grad said. "It's neat to come full circle and grow up around the Chicago Bears as a fan and now to be able to play in that stadium."
Cousins lived in the Chicago area until he was 13. His father, a minister, led prayer sessions with the Bears and is close friends with 1985 Super Bowl champions Mike Singletary and Leslie Frazier. Many of Cousins' friends from college and high school already have bought tickets to the game, as have family members and friends from the area.
They hope to see the Redskins' fourth-round draft choice build on his NFL debut, where he completed only 9-of-22 passes for 74 yards and one interception against the Buffalo Bills. Cousins called it a so-so performance that gave him confidence but also left plenty of room for improvement.
"I honestly think there was a lot more good than bad," Cousins said. "I think the stat line wasn't what I wanted, but that may have been a little misleading because I think there were some incomplete passes where I felt like I was doing good things."
Before the game, Cousins worried about whether the offensive plays would come as second nature to him. No matter of studying and practice could prepare him for his first NFL experience.
But when the time came, Cousins said he knew exactly where every player was supposed to be. And after he stepped up in the pocket and completed a third-down pass to wide receiver Aldrick Robinson on the sideline, it showed. Plays like that give both Cousins and his receivers confidence.
"As a receiver when you run your route, you don't want to worry about the pass rush and things like that," Robinson said. "So when you see him avoiding the rush like that, working the pocket, it helps you as a route-runner to get open."
Added Cousins: "I think it's plays like that one that make you say, 'I can do this.' And with the proper amount of preparation and hard work. ... I'm going to be able to hopefully make it in this league."
The hype and headlines in Washington have revolved around No. 2 overall selection Robert Griffin III, but Cousins is perfectly comfortable working in the background. Regardless of his role, he said he puts enough pressure on himself that motivation is never a problem.
Cousins will focus on the fundamentals Saturday: minimizing turnovers and making accurate throws. The Redskins coaching staff also has encouraged him to establish a wide base with his feet and be able to make any throw with the turn of a shoulder. He said that wasn't emphasized to him at Michigan State, so it's something he is still trying to adjust to.
"The other day, one of the guys mentioned to me how he's like a computer, and I guess you can kind of see that," wide receiver Terrence Austin said. "What I like about him is he'll ask you questions about what you're thinking on your route so he can kind of connect it. He has a strong arm, he's mobile and he's real smart. I'm impressed with him so far."
Cousins hopes the Redskins' brass is impressed with him, too. Although he's still the third-string quarterback on the depth chart, and Griffin has been all but guaranteed the starting job, Cousins has aspirations of leading his own team one day.
"I've said it from the start that if I'm someday going to be as good as I hope to be, that I'll get an opportunity. And if I'm not good enough, then I won't, but I shouldn't get that opportunity if I'm not good enough," he said. "I'm not going to sweat the day-to-day, what my role is. I think that I need to have the long view in mind, and if I do that I think good things will come."
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