EAGAN, Minn. — A new NFL season is upon us, but the newest feeling for Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins might be the amount of continuity he has heading into 2023.
Cousins will have the same play-caller in consecutive seasons for the first time since joining the Vikings. All five of his offensive linemen from last year are back. His pass-catching options are robust. Justin Jefferson's stardom dictates defensive coverage. Minnesota drafted receiver Jordan Addison in the first round and signed tight end T.J. Hockenson to a contract extension.
On paper, Cousins has options. Operationally, Cousins said Year 2 with Head Coach Kevin O'Connell brings added comfort in subtle ways.
"I think that in just about every phase of quarterbacking, you're going to feel more comfortable," Cousins said. "It could be something as simple as between series, conversing with Nick Mullens. We're just a year better at having that time on task together. Adjustments on the sideline with [quarterbacks coach] Chris O'Hara. I think it becomes, you know, just the time we've now had together really helps, and play-in and play-out, just being able to execute at a high level."
Minnesota opens the 2023 season at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Vikings boast the second-highest home winning percentage (behind only Kansas City) since U.S. Bank Stadium opened in 2016 (excluding 2020 when fans were not in attendance at Minnesota's home games).
Cousins picking up where he left off last season will help the Vikings improve on that home-field advantage. Since signing with Minnesota, Cousins ranks fourth in the NFL in passing touchdowns. He also closed last year with 298.0 passing yards per game and a 102.1 passer rating in Weeks 12-18.
"I fully support him not only as our captain and starting quarterback, but he knows my feeling toward him and those feelings were the same last year before we ever played just knowing my history with him," O'Connell said. "All he has done since day one has really just enhanced who I believe Kirk Cousins is as a quarterback, a leader and just a man amongst our locker room."
Last season, the Vikings went 13-4, clinched the NFC North in mid-December, and went a league-record 11-0 in one-score games. Such a crucible forged a comfortable Cousins. He remains hungrier than ever for a Super Bowl but understands the 18-week regular-season journey ahead of him.
"It's very important for me to just stay in the present, embrace the process and enjoy fighting to win even more than just chasing the win. And kind of enjoy the challenge," Cousins said. "And when you enjoy the challenge, then through the ups and downs that are inevitable through an NFL season or an NFL career, you're able to sort of enjoy every day, cherish every day and get better every day. My perspective will be to just enjoy the fight. Enjoy the challenge that it is every week."
Cousins enters Year 12 surrounded by continuity. Yet, like every fresh season, there is still plenty of new. None more notable than Addison, who is set to make his NFL regular season debut.
Addison has been learning from Jefferson and veteran K.J. Osborn throughout training camp. Like any new wrinkle, Addison's role is still unknown, but Cousins said he's ready.
"He's just been a capable player all of training camp. He continues to make athletic plays and show that he's just a natural receiver. I mean, the way he runs routes and the way he catches the football," Cousins said. "I'm excited to get him out there in the real deal, get him involved, and I'm excited to see him become a part of our offense and another weapon to use, in addition to so many other great players."
On Monday, Addison said he's excited to fulfill his childhood dream of playing in the NFL. He knows he has a vital job to do, which he described as "winning his 1-on-1s and catching the ball."
Addison anticipates single coverage thanks to Jefferson. But whether it's playing three receivers or multiple tight ends and backs, the Vikings offense can be diverse thanks to the addition of tight end Josh Oliver and strong preseasons of Johnny Mundt and Nick Muse.
Hockenson should also benefit from an entire offseason program with Minnesota.
"Obviously the longer you're at a single place, the more connections you get — not just with Kirk but all the guys around it, and to be in the same offense for a second year is always fun because you start to realize what the back side is doing, rather than just memorizing yourself," Hockenson said. "Coming here in Week 7 last year, kind of actually learning the offense, the ins and outs of it, so I'm just excited to go out there and have a little fun."
If there are any concerns, Cousins did not show them while talking to the media during his weekly Wednesday press conference. Inevitably, issues will arise during a grueling NFL season. But Cousins knows how to remedy potential problems in this league.
"If we win football games, everything else will take care of itself," Cousins said. "Let's just focus on what we need to do to win, and it really won't be much else to think or be concerned about, if we're winning football games."