Kirk Cousins was oozing with offseason confidence. Working with the Washington Redskins' No. 1 offense for organized team activities as Robert Griffin III rehabbed his injured right knee, the second-year quarterback looked the part of the starter.
All the way down to the haircut.
“Yeah, I found a place in Ashburn to get my haircut, so it was a productive offseason,” he said.
After making cameo appearances as Griffin dealt with injuries in 2012, Cousins' productive offseason is just getting started.
Given what Griffin showed he's able to do in May, RG3 could be No. 1 by the start of training camp in two months. But for now, Cousins has the chance to prepare like he'll be the guy for the Redskins next season.
“Even if Robert comes backs tomorrow ready to go, the fact that I got reps with the No. 1 offense for the first three practices is a great benefit to me,” Cousins said Thursday. “I view this opportunity as a backup and the challenges it brings as the proving grounds for being a starter.”
Cousins' proving ground at Redskins Park was shared with Rex Grossman and Pat White, but there's no doubt the Michigan State product would be under center with the starters at the beginning of training camp if Griffin isn't quite ready to go. Second in line isn't where he wants to be his entire NFL career, but the 24-year-old is relishing an unexpected chance to show himself.
Last season, Cousins started once (in a Dec. 16 victory at the Cleveland Browns) and appeared in two other regular-season games and the Redskins' wild-card playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. He led the Redskins to a win over the Baltimore Ravens in relief and finished with respectable numbers even though he struggled in the playoff appearance.
Having that much playing time, no matter the results, should be a benefit for Cousins moving forward.
“I don’t know if I would’ve expected to start a game my rookie year and play an entire game,” he said. “I probably wouldn’t have expected to play as well as we did in that game, but clearly it was a great rookie year when you talk about winning the division for the first time in many years. It probably did exceed my expectations, and now the bar is set that much higher for our second year.”
Right now the bar is run the offense in Griffin's absence and get more familiar with the pistol and zone read. Cousins didn't do either in college and a year ago as a rookie didn't get the snaps of a starter in practice. So this is a chance for him to familiarize himself even more with the offense.
“We're giving Kirk some well-needed reps, and he'll be able to step in any time he needs to,” left tackle Trent Williams said.
That has been Cousins' approach dating to his time as a backup at Michigan State. It's the only way to approach being stuck behind a franchise quarterback like Griffin.
“My mindset last year was to be ready to go and to have a mindset of preparing like I’m starting,” Cousins said. “If you start to let the thought that I’m probably not going to start creep in, then I think your preparation starts to suffer.”
Having this preparation, even if it's not game action, couldn't hurt.
“I think anytime a quarterback gets the reps that Kirk is getting right now, he develops,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “That’s what we’re looking forward to him doing, is developing during these OTAs. And with the extra added reps that he’s getting, you can see the progression in his game.”
Cousins' progression includes not just more knowledge of the offense but comfort as the leader of the offense. His being at ease with that role has more to do with experience than Griffin's injury.
“I think I’ve asserted myself more just as a result of no longer being a rookie,” Cousins said. “I’m not the low man on the totem pole. This is now my second time around the block, so it gives confidence regardless if I was with the 1s or the 2s. It’s very important as a quarterback to have confidence and when you’re with the 1s to be able to play at a high level and step in and get the job done.”
In completing 68.8 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and three interceptions as a rookie, Cousins showed he could get the job done, at least in spot duty. That's part of why he doesn't look out of place leading the way at OTAs.
“He's being Kirk,” Williams said. “Kirk's always been a good quarterback, a good leader, a good voice in the huddle. We're not missing a step.”
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