EAGAN, Minn. — Much like he does every spring, Kirk Cousins had planned to get together with a handful of teammates in early April for a throwing session in Atlanta.
While that obviously did not happen because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Vikings quarterback knew this throwing session would be more important than most.
Cousins and the Vikings offense will be without their leading receiver from this past season, as Minnesota traded Stefon Diggs to Buffalo in March for a handful of draft picks, including a 2020 first-round selection.
In a video call with Twin Cities media members Tuesday afternoon, Cousins acknowledged that there was "a unique dynamic" with the trade, adding "it became apparent that he wanted to play elsewhere, and I think it was smart of the Vikings to grant him that opportunity. It wasn't a mystery, and that's OK. I wish him really well."
And with the trade finalized, Cousins also said it will be a group effort for the Vikings to produce the 63 receptions for 1,130 yards and six touchdowns (four of which were 45-plus yards) that Diggs compiled in 2019.
"Well, he was electric. The guys who have those movement skills don't grow on trees," Cousins said. "But you can find other ways to do things. I think one great example is when we lost Adam [Thielen] last year for six or seven weeks, you watched our offense evolve and suddenly three tight ends were in the game quite a bit. Certainly, two tight ends quite a bit. We ran the ball effectively.
"And we did rely on Stefon quite a bit as kind of the [No. 1] receiver, if you will. That was after Chad Beebe had gotten hurt so a lot of things had changed. You have to be ready to evolve. Quite frankly I'm someone who is a proponent of a two or three-tight end offense, of having a fullback in the game – especially when you have C.J. Ham," Cousins continued. "So, there are some things you can do personnel-wise to where you can kind of accentuate what you find to be the strengths of your roster and of your offense. If that's three or four wide receivers, then that's fine. But if it's not, there's no rule that says we have to play four or five wide receivers at a time. I think [Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary] Kubiak will be really smart with how we use personnel to put our best players on the field – whoever that may be.
"I think someone like Tajae Sharpe is going to be able to step in and make a big difference," Cousins added. "I've heard great things about him through coaches I've worked with who have also coached him. I'm excited about several different names we're going to develop and bring to the forefront."
While there will be chances for players such as Thielen, Sharpe, Beebe and Bisi Johnson to step up at wide receiver, Cousins said it is comforting to know he has a familiarity with the guy who will be calling the offensive plays.
Kubiak is now the Vikings Offensive Coordinator after spending the 2019 season as Assistant Head Coach/Senior Offensive Advisor and having a hand in the offensive scheme. Cousins threw for 3,603 yards with 26 touchdowns and six interceptions in 15 games in during a Pro-Bowl season in 2019.
"I'm thrilled to have Coach Kubiak back as the O.C.," Cousins said. "He's a great coach, and I think that that was the natural hire. Coach Zimmer, I think, made a great choice, and I was grateful that Coach Kubiak accepted it.
"Whenever we get back to work, I'm looking forward to hitting the ground running with him and the rest of the staff," Cousins added, "and just getting together with what will be a pretty similar playbook to what we've had but also knowing there will be a few adjustments as well."
Cousins said Tuesday that while there we plenty of highs for the Vikings offense in 2019 — namely a breakout season for Dalvin Cook and Cousins earning NFC Offensive Player of the Month honors — that there will certainly be areas to improve going forward.
One of those, Cousins revealed, is his own willingness to take off and scramble more if the situation calls for it. The quarterback quipped that he found out Vikings Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton — one of the best scramblers ever — suggested using his athleticism more often, and Cousins agreed with it.
"I think there's a variety of areas we can improve; even some of the areas where we were really good on offense, I think we can take another step," Cousins said. "I think it helps to have had a year with Coach Kubiak in that system. … There was a bit of figuring it out last year and feeling one another out during the offseason of, 'What is this going to look like?' and 'How do we do things?' I'd like to think that, in a way, this is Year 2, and as a result, we can take a step forward, just because we're more familiar with the goals and the plan and what it should look like.
"I think personally, you look at the San Francisco game, and you see there's a tremendous amount of room for improvement. And personally, in my own game, I felt like we got a lot of man coverage in that game, and I really needed to take off and run," Cousins said. "I do need to run more. I have an athleticism there that, I don't know that I tap into enough. And so, that's maybe an area that I'll try to work on the best I can. The challenge is, with a red jersey on in practice, it's really hard to know when you were tackled, when you were sacked and when you're still scrambling. But I'd like to add that to my game and try to work on that the best I can, as hard as it is."
It still remains to be seen when the Vikings can get together in-person as a team due to the pandemic and what 2020 will have in store for Cousins as he enters his third season in Purple.
The quarterback will be around for the foreseeable future. He called his recent contract extension a "win-win" for both the organization and himself.
But whenever the Vikings offense hits the field again together, they will do so without Diggs, whom Cousins texted shortly after the trade was announced.
And it will be upon Cousins and others to step up and help the Vikings offense remain in the upper echelon across the league.
"Yeah, I think my text message to him said something along the lines of, 'You're as good as any receiver I've ever played with.' That includes some names like Adam Thielen, DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garçon … he's elite," Cousins said. "There were a lot of games where his talent makes an enormous difference. I just wanted to let him know that, and I'm sure the Bills will be thrilled to have that.
"He's a special player, and we now have to find a way to move forward and replace that, if you will, with a variety of players," Cousins also added. "But I think our challenge going forward is creating that talented option outside of Adam on the outside, and I think there'll be a variety of ways to do that, and I'm excited to get started on that challenge."