- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 10, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The last time Kirk Cousins started a regular-season game for the Washington Redskins, Colt McCoy finished it and offered some words of wisdom for his teammate.

“This league is very unforgiving,” McCoy said, as Cousins stood and waited for his chance to appear before reporters to face questions about his benching in Washington’s 19-17 win over the Tennessee Titans last October.

Yes, it is a very unforgiving league — and so was Redskins coach Jay Gruden, who never let Cousins get a whiff of the field after he threw his ninth interception in five games in a woeful first half against the Titans.

But, apparently, watching Robert Griffin III through offseason workouts, mini-camps, training camp and the preseason put Gruden in a forgiving mood. Early last week, he named Cousins the starting quarterback for the season, and he will lead the team on Sunday in the season opener at FedEx Field against the Miami Dolphins.

“It’s Kirk’s team,” Gruden boldly declared two days after Cousins bounced back from an early interception to lead the offense by completing 20 of 27 passes for 190 yards, a touchdown and an interception in the victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

He looked good in preseason. He looked good in training camp. He looked good in mini-camp. He looked good in OTAs. And, apparently, he just looked good when compared to Griffin, who Gruden had proclaimed, in a hostage-like statement in February, was the starter going into the season.

“I think, based on all of the evidence, and all the time that we’ve put in, this was not an overnight decision,” Gruden said last weekend on “The Redskins Coach’s Show With Jay Gruden” on WRC-Ch. 4.

Gruden went on to say that it involved “a lot of work that we put in over the last year and a half, and based on all of the evidence, it was easy.”

Kirk really came out here and did everything right, and we feel like he made the biggest jump from a talent standpoint, from a knowledge [standpoint], from a comfort standpoint in our system from year one to year two, and it showed on game day. So, it wasn’t that hard for us. It was maybe hard for people to grasp, but everybody in the building who saw it and witnessed it, it wasn’t that hard.”

Nowhere in any of this has Gruden mentioned McCoy. He will, though, at some point this season, because McCoy may still be the only one of the three damaged Redskins quarterbacks who truly understands how unforgiving the league is.

Cousins has taken Gruden’s forgiveness to heart. On the day the coach declared him the starter, Cousins told reporters, “There is something powerful about feeling believed in, and there’s something powerful about knowing where you stand. I feel like Jay has done that today. We’ll go from there.”

He likes me. He really likes me.

It’s a strange sort of endorsement, because it is based on a coach changing his mind about a guy who he buried last year without seeing him play again in a regular-season game. Now, there’s live action, with opponents preparing a game plan to face Cousins and opposing cornerbacks looking in the eye of the quarterback to see where the ball is going to go.

All that has changed for Gruden when it comes to Cousins is that he has supposedly practiced well — better than the other guys.

“I do think I’ve grown a lot as a player,” Cousins told reporters. “I have a little bit of an, ‘OK, I’ve been here before, I’ve played in some games and I’ve had some experiences now,’ and getting those experiences under my belt I think will serve me well going forward and give me a little more confidence.”

That’s a long way from last October. When asked about Gruden’s decision to bench him, Cousins responded, “I felt like I needed to submit to his authority.”

What does that even mean?

Playing in “some games” and having “some experiences” under his belt didn’t make Gruden feel better about Cousins last year after the benching in Tennessee. There have been no actual “games” since then and no real “experiences” to make anyone other than Cousins and — apparently Gruden – to have a “little more confidence” in him.

According to ESPN’s research, in 575 snaps over 11 games since 2013, Cousins has thrown 16 interceptions and lost four fumbles. In other words, he has committed a turnover about once every 29 snaps, or 3.4 percent of his plays. That’s the worst rate among 46 quarterbacks with at least 500 snaps during that span.

Still, there are reasons to believe in Cousins. He appears to run the offense at a high level. He seems to have the respect and admiration of his teammates. Former Redskins coach and quarterback guru Mike Shanahan, who drafted Cousins in the fourth round in the same draft as Griffin in 2012, believes Cousins can be a top-10 quarterback.

He may also be Rex Grossman.

• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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