- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins stepped up to the podium Wednesday afternoon and was asked to describe some of the things he does well.

“I don’t know that I want to spend this press conference bragging about myself,” he said with a sheepish grin.

Cousins is the son of a minister from a relatively small town in Michigan. He uses phrases like “doggone it” in interviews. His Twitter account is riddled with photos of foster dogs that he and his wife look after until they can find permanent homes.

In a league filled with egos, Cousins has rarely — if ever — shown signs of one. But when he first heard that the Redskins had hired Jay Gruden in January, the 26-year-old backup could not help but think selfishly.

In Gruden, Cousins would have an offensive-minded coach who ran a West Coast style of offense, similar to what he grew accustomed to at Michigan State. A former quarterback himself, Gruden had helped develop a player similar to Cousins, Andy Dalton, as the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati.

“I felt like all things considered,” Cousins said, “it was probably the best possible scenario.”

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Now, Cousins has an extended opportunity to make the most of that situation. With Robert Griffin III nursing a dislocated left ankle, Cousins will be Washington’s starting quarterback for the foreseeable future, beginning Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Cousins has appeared in nine NFL games and started four, including the final three games of last season after Washington’s playoff chances had expired and Griffin was benched.

In a way, this opportunity feels different than the others. The Redskins are 1-1 with 14 games left rather than 3-10 with three games left. But in other ways, Cousins said, nothing has changed.

“The pressure, the expectations, whatever you want to call it, it’s nothing new,” he said. “I think every opportunity in the NFL is big. You’re being evaluated by so many people — your own team, your own coaches, your own front office, other teams, the media, friends and family back home are evaluating you. So every opportunity you get, you’re under a microscope.”

When Griffin left Sunday’s 41-10 victory over Jacksonville in the first quarter, the Redskins had to eliminate the zone-read portion of their playbook to adjust to Cousins. But Cousins and Gruden both said the game plan otherwise remained exactly the same, and will not be noticeably different this week, either.

“It’s the same playbook,” wide receiver Pierre Garcon said. “It’s no real big difference. Kirk’s probably not going to run as much as Robert, but that’s the only real difference in the two quarterbacks.”

In training camp and throughout the preseason, Cousins became accustomed to working with the likes of tight end Niles Paul and wide receiver Ryan Grant, among other backups. So it was not surprising last week when those two players were targeted more than every other Redskins player combined.

This week, Cousins said he is focused on building chemistry with Washington’s starters: Garcon and DeSean Jackson. Rather than leading the scout team offense in practice against Washington’s starting defense, Cousins now handles all of the repetitions with the first-team.

“You’re certainly going to develop greater chemistry, greater rapport the more you play with them, the more reps you get with them,” Cousins said. “But that being said, I do feel comfortable. … It’s just a matter of me managing the game and getting the football in the right guy’s hands to let them go make plays.”

That phrase — “managing the game” — is one of the many reasons why Cousins has drawn comparisons to Dalton, and openly compared himself to the Bengals’ quarterback Wednesday.

In Cincinnati, Dalton excelled by getting the ball to wide receiver A.J. Green, running back Giovani Bernard and others with room to run after the catch. Gruden, who echoed the comparison between Dalton and Cousins, expects the same thing from his new starter Sunday.

“We don’t expect him to go out and win the MVP next week,” Gruden said. “We expect him to be effective. He doesn’t have to throw for 450 yards and six touchdowns to be effective. He can manage the game, manage third downs, not turn the ball over, keep us in good field position and play the position. Good quarterbacks can play differently. It’s not all about stats all the time.”

In fact, some of the most important plays Cousins makes on Sunday might go unnoticed at the time. A successful afternoon might mean shifting the offensive line’s protection right before the snap to pick up a blitz, or throwing the ball away when a play breaks down.

“You know, I’m not 6-5. I don’t run a 4.3 [-second 40-yard dash]. I don’t have an arm that can throw at 90 yards,” Cousins said. “So the focus for me has to be having a good command, making great decisions, knowing where to go with the football. Sometimes that’s taking a sack, sometimes that’s throwing it out of bounds — but always giving us a chance to win the game at the end.”

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