EAGAN, Minn. – For the fifth straight season, Kirk Cousins will have a different voice in his helmet on game days … but at least it's a voice he's familiar with.
Gary Kubiak joined the Vikings in 2019 as assistant head coach/offensive advisor and heavily influenced Minnesota's offensive system. When Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski departed for Cleveland's head coaching position, Kubiak assumed the role of play caller.
Cousins spoke to media members Friday via video conference and explained that Kubiak becoming offensive coordinator means elements of both continuity and turnover.
"But I've learned that turnover is the normal part of this league," Cousins said. "Change is seemingly a constant in this league."
He did say later, however, that Kubiak's transition to coordinator has been a smooth one that hasn't changed much about the goings on of the offense.
"He kind of still keeps that view from 30,000 feet where he's just observing," Cousins explained. "He'll speak into things when he has a thought, but at the same time, he's letting [quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak] and Rico (Rick Dennison), our offensive line coach, really also handle their territory, as well.
"Gary is obviously the voice in meetings, where Kevin was that voice last year. So, I guess you're hearing his voice a lot more in meeting times," Cousins continued. "But on the practice field, really, Klint is my first point of contact on a day-to-day basis, and that's really felt more similar than different, which is probably a good thing to keep things as consistent as we can."
Maintaining continuity with the system and verbiage will benefit a Vikings team navigating an offseason program dramatically shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Considering the truncated training camp and elimination this year of all preseason games, will the team – and especially rookies and other fresh faces – be up to speed?
"I will say there's a silver lining," Cousins said. "Coach Kubiak made the comment [Thursday], we will have done so much more meeting time and walk-through time before we actually hit the practice field and go full speed than any rookie would've ever gotten in the past. It does lend itself well to really learning the basics, learning the fundamentals, before you have to take it to full speed, 100 miles per hour.
"I think there's some value in that, being able to really get a base and knowing it as well as you can before you have to do it at full speed," he added.
One of those rookie players is, of course, wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who shined at LSU before the Vikings drafted him 22nd overall in April.
View photos of Vikings players who participated in workouts at TCO Performance Center.
While quarterbacks typically would have spent plenty of time by now with receivers, often on their personal time as well as during OTAs and minicamp, Cousins' time with Jefferson and the other pass catchers has been lacking.
Cousins was able to get in a throwing session with Jefferson earlier this summer, though, which he called "one step" of coming alongside the rookie and helping him learn the offense.
"But it's just a small step," Cousins said. "Then you've got to make progress in a unique setting of virtual meetings and now these walk-throughs. Every day, he's learning something new and getting experience. Just yesterday, there was a unique route we're asking him to run that he was still trying to figure out, 'How do you want me to do this? What steps do you want me to take?' Whether it's the receivers coach (Andrew Janocko), myself, Coach Kubs, we're just trying to help him understand what we want, and every day you have another step that you take."
Jefferson is part of a receiving corps that also includes Adam Thielen, Bisi Johnson, free-agent signee Tajaé Sharpe, Chad Beebe, Dillon Mitchell, Alexander Hollins, K.J. Osborn, Quartney Davis and Dan Chisena.
Despite the loss of Stefon Diggs, who was traded to Buffalo this offseason for multiple picks, including the selection Minnesota used to draft Jefferson, Cousins believes the position group is strong.
"We have a lot of depth. When you look at some further-down-the-line players, I have a lot of confidence in what they can do," said Cousins, pointing out the benefit of Mitchell and Hollins spending last season learning on the Vikings practice squad. Hollins wound up appearing in four games, recording two catches for 46 yards.
He called it a "good-quality" group.
"[There's] really two things you want," Cousins said. "You want that athleticism where you know your receivers can create separation and win versus man coverage, which I think we have, and then you also want someone you know you can count on, who's going to get lined up and know where to go in the pass game, in the run game and handle all the terminology and all the different rules. And we have a group of guys that can do that, too. From both sides, I think we've got a great group in the receiver room."
Minnesota's rookies might be missing out on preseason games, but they aren't missing out on the positive pressure that comes with experiencing the "bright lights" of the NFL for the first time. If anything, as Cousins pointed out, a lack of exhibition games makes the practices between now and the regular season that much more significant.
Cousins recalled his rookie training camp in 2012, during which he knew Washington's 90-man roster would eventually be cut to 53.
"You look around and you do the math … with 80 players on the roster, there's only 46 that dress on game day," Cousins said. "So I used to joke that training camp when I was a rookie, second, third-year player, that was my Super Bowl. If I didn't have a great training camp, I wasn't going to see the field or see a spot on the team.
"So I do think that there is a heightened sense of awareness from the moment you get to work," Cousins continued. "And that really helps train you for the bright lights and the big stage, and you do hope that our practices are such that you get to the game and you feel like, 'OK, I've been here before. I've handled this. And I don't need to make this a bigger deal than this already is, because I've practiced hard and been put through these paces and had to really compete every single day that I'm out here."
The Vikings are early in the process, having not yet held any padded practices at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
But with Minnesota's season opener against Green Bay seemingly just around the corner, Cousins is happy with the progress thus far. He called the beginning of Verizon Vikings Training Camp, different as it may be, productive and effective.
"I think it's given young players a great chance to learn the system and get their base before we're going full speed in practice," Cousins said. "It's been a pretty smooth transition with the protocols related to COVID, and I think that's been a real positive and is kind of a new normal.
"Right now, we're just kind of stacking bricks and building the foundation for hopefully an outstanding 2020 season," he added.