EAGAN, Minn. – Two benchmarks this week are bringing Kirk Cousins closer to emulating game day.
The quarterback on Monday donned pads for the first time since December and enjoyed an uptick in the pace of practice at Verizon Vikings Training Camp.
And while Cousins wears a red jersey that protects him from contact, full-pads practice gives him a better idea of what it's like to go against Minnesota's vaunted defense.
"It's a great defense. I can't say enough good things about the guys," Cousins told media following Tuesday morning's walk-through. "What stands out to me is the continuity that they have, having played in a scheme for so many years and having played together for so many years. In addition to the fact that they're talented.
"It gives us a great challenge," Cousins continued. "They're also very sound. There aren't a lot of players running wide open or blown coverages where they're giving you a touchdown or a big gain simply because of a mental error. They're on their details, and the scheme is sound, so you have to earn every yard. That's also the sign of a good defense."
The Vikings are scheduled for another padded practice Tuesday afternoon before a players' off day Wednesday. After afternoon practices on Thursday and Friday, the team will gear up for its annual night practice.
The under-the-lights event has become a fan-favorite, and this year marks the first at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
Cousins said he's heard a bit about the practice and is most anticipating the atmosphere that more closely mirrors a game.
"We talked about it a little bit yesterday, just how we're excited to turn practice into more of a game feel," Cousins said. "I think it's important to get that before the first preseason game and even in addition to the preseason games, to have substitutions from the sidelines, to have a true flow of a game. The more we can simulate game day during practice, the better off practice becomes."
When game day does come around and the Vikings kick off the regular season, Cousins is glad to know he'll have Stefon Diggs around for the long hall. The Vikings announced Tuesday that Diggs has signed a contract extension with the organization after three seasons of impressing in Purple.
What does Cousins love so much about the receiver he's only known for a few months?
"What I most like is that he loves football and loves to come and work," Cousins said of Diggs. "Because as a quarterback, it can be miserable if you're working with someone who really is just out here to get a paycheck and leave. He wants to work, he's excited to practice, he wants to compete."
According to Cousins, Diggs' passion for the game and openness to critique and coaching adds to a culture the Vikings locker room has come to be defined by.
Cousins provided an example from just the night before, when the team worked on install at the facility past 9 p.m. He painted a picture for media of Diggs, who continued to listen intently and take notes "as we're installing the 100th play of the install."
And he doesn't doubt that Diggs' notes from Tuesday evening will translate onto the field less than 24 hours later.
"That's just one example, but it manifests itself over and over in each meeting, in each conversation at lunch, each practice, each walk-through," Cousins said. "When I motion him in during walk-through to block the safety, there's a sense of urgency. It matters to him; it's not just a walk-through to go through the motions. This matters, to make sure he blocks the safety so Dalvin [Cook] can gain some yards on the doctor run. That's what you're looking for."
Cousins later added that No. 14 has a natural ability to track the football and "can run the entire route tree at a level that would warrant wanting him around."
The crew is all here, and Cousins is grateful for the continuity that Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and the organization are striving to secure.
Diggs' extension came 16 months after the Vikings also extended receiver Adam Thielen. A few minutes after highlighting the defense's continuity, Cousins – who signed a three-year deal with Minnesota in March – spoke to the offensive side, as well.
"I love it. Continuity to me is very important, and it's not a luxury we have in the NFL these days. There is a lot of change year-in-year-out," Cousins said. "I've come to accept that and understand that you can't use that as an excuse. As the new players come in, including myself, we have to learn quickly and get caught up to speed and go and expect there to be more turnover as the year goes."
Added Cousins: "But if we can develop continuity, that's just a bonus. It is an asset if you can have it. Now we've got to stay healthy, keep those guys on the field, but I think it can really make a difference if you can have it."