MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. –Kirk Cousins isn't looking too far ahead.
Earlier this month, the quarterback used the analogy of "eating an elephant one bite at a time," and he's sticking to it.
Cousins joined Vikings Owners, teammates, coaches and staff at Wednesday's "Team Up to Give Back" volunteer event and, while there, spoke to Twin Cities media members. When asked by reporters how he's able to manage high expectations, Cousins calmly responded that they "are what they are."
"You can't change them, can't control them," Cousins said. "All we can do is focus on having a great day today, focus on having a great time with the kids here at Friendly Hills and have a great practice – which we did this morning. Take each day as it comes."
In the fifth of 10 scheduled Vikings Organized Team Activity practices, Cousins got in ample red zone work with his teammates.
During drills inside the 20-yard line, Cousins connected with Laquon Treadwell for a touchdown. Cousins said he's excited to see what the receiver does in his third season.
"Like me, he's just continuing to grow as a player and learn. Every day we've learned new things and taken steps together," Cousins said.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer emphasizes situational football in practice, and it's a strategy that his new starting quarterback appreciates.
Cousins said it's important to practice third downs, two-minute and red zone scenarios. He pointed toward the way a field is condensed during a red zone situation, requiring a different approach offensively.
"There are 22 guys in a small amount of space in tight windows, and we have to talk about how we are going to be successful down there, especially on third down," Cousins said. "The defense is talking about, 'How we are going to keep them out of the end zone and force them to a field goal?' It is a good cat and mouse game, back and forth, and that is what OTAs are all about.
"You have to be on the screws," Cousins added. "Your throws have to be that much more accurate, the routes have to be that much more perfect in terms of the depth and the cut and the timing, and that is why we are practicing it right now."
Each day in the Vikings locker room is another chance for Cousins to build rapport with his teammates, and it's an opportunity he doesn't take for granted. From receivers and tight ends to getting on the same page with the offensive line, Cousins said he's come a long way and added that a lot of chemistry still can be built, which he finds exciting.
He specifically was asked about Kyle Rudolph and said he wants to continue learning what the Pro Bowl tight end does well. Cousins shared an example from the morning's practice:
"There was a play today in the red zone where I didn't throw it to him, and right away after the play Kevin Stefanski, my quarterbacks coach, was saying, 'Hey, in that situation, you might want to give Kyle a chance. Even though he looks covered, you have to throw him the ball. He is open. He can prove you right.'
"It is learning experiences like that, we have to have him out there so we can get those reps and get those coaching points, and then hopefully the next time give him a chance to make a play for us," Cousins continued.
Heading into his seventh NFL season and fourth as a starter, Cousins isn't short on experience and isn't afraid to weigh in on the offense, but he also trusts entirely in Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo.
Cousins didn't compare the system to an existing one but identified it simply as the 2018 Vikings offense.
"I see it as a mixture of a whole lot of backgrounds, a whole lot of different experiences, but at the end of the day Coach [DeFilippo] is the Offensive Coordinator. It's his offense. He's calling and designing the offensive plays and at the end of the day, it's what he wants," Cousins said. "If I do have an input or a thought, it's with the understanding that it's his call at the end of the day, and I'll do whatever he says."
Added Cousins: "But we do try to have great communication back and forth – Coach Stefanski is involved in that, really the entire offense. Receivers have a voice, everybody shares their opinion, and ultimately Coach [DeFilippo] makes the call."
Looking ahead at the rest of OTAs, minicamp and then training camp before starting preseason, Cousins isn't placing any pressure on the progress.
He knows it will happen naturally.
"I think it's just continued improvement," Cousins said. "Everything is new, so I'm just continuing to try to get to where the plays and the reads and the terminology are all instinctual without having to think – and that takes a long time, but every day, you can take a step in that process, and that's what I'm trying to do now and the end of mini-camp."