- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 17, 2014

In an ideal world, Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins would be competing for a starting position somewhere in the NFL.

Cousins believes he’s good enough to do so. He said as much at the end of last season after starter Robert Griffin III was shut down by former coach Mike Shanahan, who started Cousins in those final three games.

But after an offseason filled with trade rumors, Cousins is right back where he started: Griffin’s understudy for the third year in a row. It is a role he has become used to, but he admittedly aspires to something more.

“This league is very, very competitive whether you’re a one, a two or a three,” Cousins said. “You’re always fighting to keep your spot and always fighting to get to a better spot.”

But with the Redskins failing to find a trade offer that moved them, Cousins remains with the team. He’s too valuable to Washington as an insurance policy if Griffin gets hurt. That’s obviously happened before. But they can’t afford to simply give him away for a low-round draft pick, either. That would be a waste of an asset.

If Cousins was disappointed that he wasn’t dealt, he hasn’t said so publicly. But he also understands even a strong preseason with the Redskins could help him land in a spot where starting is a viable option. In Washington, that isn’t going to happen as long as Griffin is healthy. Cousins will compete because it’s what the position requires, it’s how he plays the game, it’s what he expects of himself.

“Every day you want to come out and show what you can do, what you’re capable of,” Cousins said. “You’re always being evaluated and you’ve got to understand that as a player. It makes you be that much more locked in.”

Cousins was a fourth-round selection in the 2012 draft, 101 picks after Griffin went second overall. He has appeared in eight games with a 56.2 completion percentage for 1,320 yards and 10 interceptions to eight touchdowns. Cousins is an intriguing talent, but has yet to play so consistently well that another team would part easily with a high draft choice or a contributing starter to obtain him.

Behind Cousins, 25, in the rotation is Colt McCoy, now in his fifth season at age 27. He’s started 21 games in his career, all with the Cleveland Browns. But he’s been primarily a backup the last two years. Both men are learning the version of the West Coast offense run by new coach Jay Gruden.

“I think Kirk has done a great job and I think Colt has done a great job also,” Gruden said. “They’re going to make some mistakes out here. [Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and secondary coach Raheem Morris], they’ve done a good job of throwing different disguises at them, different coverages, different blitzing schemes. They haven’t been perfect. Nor would I expect them to [be].”

They are lumped together, however. It is Griffin and then it is Cousins and McCoy and nothing short of injury will change that. They have to be ready. But their fate is not in their hands, either. Gruden wouldn’t even commit to adding a fourth quarterback for training camp because Griffin will already take the majority of the reps.

“They will have to make do with the rest,” Gruden said.

Despite his status, Cousins, in a way, feels like a rookie again with a fresh start under Gruden. But with that comes a learning curve. Despite the return of tight ends coach Sean McVay, now the offensive coordinator, there is new terminology to pick up — “it’s not Spanish, it’s not English, it’s Spanglish,” said Cousins — and new plays to master.

The break between minicamp this week and training camp in late July will feature a short rest and then plenty of throws, video work and playbook study. Cousins said he can’t afford to take five weeks off and still show up for camp ready to play at a high level. That’s when the evaluation begins again, by the Redskins and by the NFL’s 31 other teams, too.

“I don’t think that really changes from the day you enter the league until the day you leave,” Cousins said. “But my focus has always been when I come onto the practice field to try to play well enough where the coaches are excited about me and are confident if I have to go into a game.”

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