EAGAN, Minn. — Consider Kirk Cousins ready for a jersey swap.
But it sounds like he'll have to wait until Sept. 11.
The Vikings quarterback donned a red, no-contact jersey Thursday in Minnesota's final practice of the week, before closing the preseason in Denver at 8 p.m. (CT) Saturday.
Cousins and several starters are not expected to play, with Head Coach Kevin O'Connell continuing to emphasize having first-teamers as healthy as possible for Week 1 of the regular season.
View photos of players during 2022 Vikings Training Camp practice on August 25 at the TCO Performance Center.
Thursday's session was much more of a scrimmage and held inside TCO Stadium (without fans in attendance).
"You know the big focus for me is that all that matters is the 17 games and so I want practice to feel as much like a game as possible," Cousins said. "If there was a way to take this [practice jersey] off and have on the purple jersey and get hit and know you're not going to be out, I would say 'hit me.' You just want to be ready for what the real game is, and so days like today, some of the little things we did to structure it, we tried to do that more. That's where the value lies."
Cousins said the way O'Connell structured this year's night practice in front of 7,000 fans, along with last week's two days of joint practices against the 49ers have provided a bit more of a game feel, but Vikings and 49ers defenders who breached the line of scrimmage didn't try to wallop him.
Outside linebackers Danielle Hunter and Za'Darius Smith applied pressure multiple times throughout Thursday's session on what was a strong day for the first-team defense.
"I think it was good today; we tried to simulate a halftime and make it more like the real thing," Cousins said. "We were going to [start] at 3:25 today just to simulate what it would be [in Week 1] but ended up having some extra time so we moved it up, but it was a good simulation."
Cousins was out for Minnesota's preseason opener at Las Vegas after testing positive for COVID-19. He returned in time for the joint practices that the Vikings treated more important for starters than any preseason contest.
It was a strange sight to see Cousins with clipboard duty on the sidelines of U.S. Bank Stadium last Saturday against the 49ers. He has only not played in one regular-season game there (coach's decision in 2019 finale to rest for playoffs) since joining the Vikings in 2018.
But there he was, prepping for his 11th NFL season and eighth as a starter, taking notes during the exhibition.
"It's really good. I think it helps me stay in [the game], trying to read coverage and talk about the result. I think situationally about the clock and the timeouts and everything," Cousins said. "There's a lot of ways you can stay in it and keep your teammates in it, talk to Justin, 'Hey, we've got this call here. Let's see what they do here. All right, in press-man, here's what I would be thinking,' so you can kind of talk through it as it's happening, and I think it's really valuable."
While Cousins is eager to play in a game, he said he understood the approach by O'Connell and the shift in thinking across the NFL that's changed since his 2012 rookie season with Washington.
"Every place is different, but it seems there is a bit of a trend in league to maybe play [starters] a little less. There is also an uptick in joint practices," Cousins said. "I didn't have my first joint practice until my third year in the league, and it's become almost an annual thing later in my career. That's maybe been on the rise and then playing in the preseason has been on the decline.
"You can't forget we lost Irv Smith, Jr., last year in Kansas City, and he was going to be a big part of our offense. Many of you were at camp every day last year and saw the impact he had on our offense in training camp, and then he was gone for the year," Cousins said. "There is a reason for what we're doing. There are drawbacks to it, too, but you have to make the best decision you can and go with it — no excuses and be ready to go on Sept. 11."