Kubiak Evaluates Cousins, Backup QB Battle Before Training Camp

EAGAN, Minn. — When the Vikings hired a handful of new coaches in mid-January, it was Gary Kubiak who grabbed a majority of the headlines.

There was good reason for it, as Minnesota’s assistant head coach/offensive advisor has four total Super Bowl rings and is as respected as an offensive mind as anyone around the NFL.

But Kubiak’s son, Klint, also joined the staff as the Vikings quarterbacks coach, marking the start of a second stint in Minnesota for the 33-year-old.

With Vikings Verizon Training Camp on the horizon (rookies and select other players arrive on July 22 while veterans report on July 26), Vikings.com is looking at Minnesota’s group of assistant coaches and their position groups.

Here is a quick bio on Kubiak:

— Kubiak was a quality control coach in Minnesota in 2013 before Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer retained him in 2014 as the assistant wide receivers coach.

— Kubiak was the wide receivers coach at the University of Kansas in 2015, his second go-around in college. He was an offensive quality control coach at Texas A&M from 2010-11, and was a graduate assistant inside receivers coach for the Aggies in 2012.

— He spent the previous three seasons with Denver as an offensive assistant and quarterbacks coach. Gary Kubiak was the Broncos Head Coach in 2016 when his son was on staff.

— Kubiak played safety for Colorado State from 2005-09. He racked up 187 total tackles with 7.0 tackles for loss, three interceptions and six pass breakups. He was a team captain as a senior and played in the East-West Shrine Game in January of 2010.

As for Kubiak’s quarterback group, the Vikings are currently carrying four of them on the roster in Kirk Cousins, Sean Mannion, Kyle Sloter and Jake Browning.

Cousins is the de-facto starter after throwing for 4,000-plus yards and 30 touchdowns in 2018, his first season in Purple.

Now that the two have had a few months to work together, Kubiak said he has been impressed by Cousins on a daily basis.

“Terrific spring. He put in a lot of work and studied like he was a rookie,” Kubiak said. “Coming in and getting our system down, he knew he had to come in and be the guy in charge so he spent a lot of time in the classroom getting to know his playbook and then executing those schemes on the field.

“He’s been a great guy to coach, and he’s on the ball every day. It’s a real challenge to coach those elite guys because they’re so on the ball and on top of everything, so you have to have something new for them every day,” Kubiak added. “That’s the challenge for me as a coach. It’s excellent, and I’m up for it and I love working with him.”

While Cousins is penciled in as the starter, one of the most intriguing position battles in training camp will be for the spot(s) behind him.

Mannion and Sloter have limited regular-season experience but have been in the league for a few years, while Browning is a rookie.

Kubiak went in order of age when describing the signal-callers, starting with Mannion, who started one game over the past four seasons as the Rams backup.

“Sean is a professional. He comes in and he’s one of the hardest-working quarterbacks I’ve ever been around,” Kubiak said. “He is very bright; nothing surprises him. He asks incredible questions, and he runs the show when he’s in there like a veteran. We’re really fortunate to have him.”

Sloter is entering his third season with Minnesota but has yet to take a regular-season snap. He has been a preseason standout in 2017 with the Kubiaks in Denver and in 2018 with Minnesota. Sloter was lured to the Vikings after being released by the Broncos during final roster reductions before the 2017 season.

“Kyle’s been a pleasure [to work with]. He’s really worked hard and made the most of his opportunities,” Kubiak said. “Mannion and Cousins had a head up on him because they knew this system better, and Kyle had never been in this type of system, so he’s had to put in a lot of extra time, which he has. I’m proud of his efforts.”

Browning was signed this spring as an undrafted free agent from the University of Washington, where he threw for 12,296 yards and 94 touchdowns in 53 games as the Huskies starter.

“I was watching his college film, and we were really excited to get him in the building,” Kubiak said. “[Vikings General Manager] Rick Spielman and [Vikings Assistant General Manager] George Paton did a great job of getting him to us because we know he’s a great player, and he’s done a great job.

“I wouldn’t say we’re surprised he’s done a great job because we knew him going into the draft, so we got a steal by getting him as a free agent,” Kubiak added.

Kubiak will be tasked with helping Cousins elevate his game in 2018, while also helping determine which quarterback will win the battle for the backup spot.

Kubiak said he takes plenty of pride in his group, and added they take plenty of pride in commanding the offense, no matter which quarterback is in the huddle.

“They don’t go face-to-face every day in a tackling drill where it’s Browning vs. Mannion, although I’m sure they’d like that every now and again,” Kubiak said with a laugh. “Once they’re on the field, they have to run the show with 10 other guys with them.

“I think in the room, you don’t get a feeling that guys are butting heads. They work really well together and complement each other, and they compete mentally. Who can be the most prepared for that day? Every practice is like a game for us in the offseason,” Kubiak added. “Who can ask the best questions? Who can answer the tests we give them most correctly? We have a board, and guys get points for who had the test right that day. They compete that way. But at the end of the day, they all work well together and know they have a job to do. They’re all professionals.”

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