- The Washington Times - Monday, August 25, 2014

A few weeks before the beginning of his rookie season, Kirk Cousins hiked up the hill between the practice field and the main facility at Redskins Park, stopping near a set of stairs to answer questions about his role on the team.

In the two years since, Cousins has played in eight games with the Redskins, including four starts. He has found himself the subject of trade rumors on more than one occasion. But his role in Washington and attitude toward that role have not changed.

So after practice Monday afternoon, when Cousins walked up the same hill, stood near the same stairs and was asked the same questions, his answers also remained the same.

“Robert [Griffin III] is the starting quarterback,” Cousins said. “I’m the backup quarterback. And I’m going to try to be the best quarterback I can be.”

Cousins will likely start and play at least a half Thursday in Washington’s preseason finale in Tampa Bay. He has again been caught in the spotlight over the past few days after Griffin struggled in Washington’s third preseason game against Baltimore on Saturday night. Griffin completed 5 of 8 passes for 20 yards with three sacks and one interception, while Cousins went 14 of 20 for 122 yards and two touchdowns.

Cousins moved the ball down the field with ease, albeit against Baltimore’s reserves, which prompted former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann to comment on the quarterback situation during the team’s broadcast.

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“It’s going to be a decision that Jay Gruden is going to have to make,” said Theismann, who works for the Redskins Broadcast Network. “Right now, Robert Griffin III is his quarterback. Now, if there was a quarterback competition, it wouldn’t be a competition. Kirk Cousins would be the man I believe he would have to go to, because of the efficiency with which he has run [the offense].”

Swarmed by reporters after practice Monday, Cousins said part of his job is to “ignore the noise” and continue to improve. Griffin also downplayed Theismann’s comments and the reactions of local and national media.

“You can’t worry about what doubters or anybody on the outside says,” Griffin said. “Everybody in this locker room is all we got, and it’s all we need.”

Doubt over the starting quarterback job, whether warranted or not, is nothing new. With each of Griffin’s missteps over the past two seasons, some Redskins fans and analysts have pined for the Michigan State product to unseat the Heisman Trophy winner as the team’s starter.

Cousins, however, knows he is fighting for a job that has never truly been open to him.

“I try to fill the role that the coaches and the organization asks of me, and what they’ve asked of me is to be a backup,” he said. “I can’t create a role that’s not there. The role for me is to be a backup, and doggone it, I’m going to be the best backup I can be.”

SEE ALSO: Jay Gruden fairly certain starters will not play Thursday vs. Tampa Bay

Since being drafted exactly 100 picks after Griffin in 2012, Cousins has accepted his role without resigning hopes of eventually being a starter, whether in Washington or elsewhere. He was reportedly targeted by the Cleveland Browns during the offseason, and there has been speculation he could be dealt to the St. Louis Rams after starting quarterback Sam Bradford tore his anterior cruciate ligament this weekend.

Cousins has had his ups and downs in practice but shown steady improvement this preseason, albeit against second- and third-string defenses. He completed 9 of 13 passes for 103 yards and one touchdown in the preseason opener against New England before completing 12 of 21 passes for 145 yards, one touchdown and one interception against Cleveland.

“I do feel like I’ve taken steps,” Cousins said. “A lot of these preseason games, my attitude coming away from them has been, ‘I’m really close to being pretty good. I’m not there yet, but I’m close.’ So that’s exciting, because I feel like every day I’m taking a step closer and closer and closer.”

Cousins has shown confidence working in the pocket during the preseason but said he still wants to improve his command of the offense and understanding of Gruden’s system. He also acknowledged the persistent obstacles of being a backup quarterback, warding off complacency while fighting for a job that isn’t open.

“That’s the challenge, right?” Cousins said. “We as humans are going to naturally relax when we don’t think we’re the guy. And that’s the challenge. That’s where the character gets tested, and that’s why not everybody can do this and not everybody lasts.”

• Tom Schad can be reached at tschad@washingtontimes.com.

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