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Cousins Explains how Vikings Defensive Continuity Creates Challenges

EAGAN, Minn. — Kirk Cousins thought he had the perfect answer.

Instead, he was only left with a question for Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer.

Cousins on Wednesday relayed an anecdote from organized team activity practices that occurred before Minnesota's summer break and Verizon Vikings Training Camp.

"One time in OTAs … I saw they were bringing a pressure. I made a check to have an answer, well they then checked to get out of the pressure, so then I was left with a play that was not very good versus their max zone coverage," Cousins said. "I went over to Coach Zimmer afterwards and said, 'Tell me a little bit about what is going on there.' He said, 'They were not supposed to do that. They were supposed to leave the play on, but they've been playing together for so long.'  

"They're so dialed in," Cousins added. "Even if the play clock is running down or even if you're getting your check out quickly, they know one hand signal, one word, everybody knows what to do."

The story illustrated the rare continuity of a defense set to return 10 of 11 starters on a unit that led the league in 2017. Cousins admires that continuity, and the Vikings want to establish a similar familiarity on offense.

He also knows it doesn't happen overnight and is excited to continue progressing before Minnesota opens its 2018 preseason slate at Denver on Saturday.

Here are three other topics covered by Cousins on Wednesday:

1. On the challenge created by offensive linemen dealing with injuries

The interior of the Vikings offensive line has been hit hard by injuries.

Pat Elflein continues to rehab while on the Physically Unable to Perform List. Nick Easton was moved from left guard to fill in for Elflein at center until he suffered an injury. Right guard Mike Remmers also suffered an injury. 

The piling up of injuries up front is something that Cousins witnessed in Washington in 2017.

"I played with a depleted offensive line last year, and it is certainly not preferred," Cousins said. "Much of the offensive line play is like quarterback, where you have players who, down the road, you know are going to be good players, but they may not be there yet. It takes time, it takes reps, it takes these preseason games.

"We have to throw them in the fire and get them work, so that they can take those next steps," he added. "I see it as a great challenge for me as a quarterback, to say, 'I look around the league at some of the all-time greats who are playing right now, and they have had a revolving door at offensive line, and it really never caused a drop in their play.' If I ever want to be mentioned among those guys, I have got to be able to play regardless of who is in front of me. So I will take pride in that, hopefully still being able to produce at a high level regardless of who is out there."

2. On if the preseason is an accurate barometer for regular-season results

"Well, you certainly want to put a good product on the field any time you step on the field," Cousins said. "Obviously, it is a small sample size to go off of there, so when it is all you have to look at, especially when you are on the outside, it appears to be pretty telling to how the teams are doing and how they look for the year.

"Looking back at my preseasons, personally, I don't know if it is a very good indicator of how the season plays out," he added. "I know in 2016 we did not really get our offense going but almost threw for 5,000 yards during the regular season. That would be a time where it was not a great indicator, but I think it is important to get out there, have a good taste in our mouths leaving the game. When you only get a handful of snaps if you don't start fast, you don't finish strong. You have to come out the gates ready to go before your opportunity is gone and you don't really have time to ease in."

3. On if he prefers for the offensive coordinator to be in the coaches' booth or on the sideline

Offensive coordinators have the option of coaching from the sidelines or the coaches' booth.

Vikings Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo said Wednesday that he plans to coach from the sidelines on Saturday in Denver and see how it goes.

Cousins has experienced both approaches in the NFL. The quarterback said he and DeFilippo had not yet discussed the matter.

"That is the kind of thing, as we get closer to Saturday night we need to address," Cousins said. "Sean McVay in '15 was on the sidelines, in '16 he was in the booth, in '17, Jay [Gruden] called the game for me from the sideline.

"Kyle Shanahan always called it from the sideline, when I was with him," Cousins continued. "So my experience has been both. I think that the box gives you not only a better vantage point, but a little more sterile environment, so the play call, the voice is coming in from a sterile environment, which can be more of a calmer setting. Not a lot of crowd noise or static coming in the microphone. The advantage to the sideline is the communication; we can be on the same page. So there are pros and cons to both. Kind of give something up to gain something else."

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