EAGAN, Minn. – Kirk Cousins has become adept at steering the mammoth conversion van he bought from his grandmother.
When Cousins wheeled the 2000 GMC Savana into the Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center lot this week, he also was transporting a license to lead that was previously issued by Vikings coaches and teammates during the offseason program.
Minutes before Cousins addressed media members on Thursday, Vikings Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo had explained the importance of having a designated starting quarterback heading into training camp.
“I’ve been at spots before where there is quarterback competition, and you’re worried because neither guy is really stepping in front of the other one and separating himself from the other guy,” DeFilippo said. “To be quite honest with you, if there’s a quarterback competition, usually, you don’t have one.
“We don’t have that here, and I think we exude that confidence in Kirk,” he continued. “I think he exudes that confidence in us, and we’re really looking forward to him playing well this year and leading our football team, and getting us first downs and third-down conversions, scoring in the red zone and playing situation smart, all the things that we preached to our quarterbacks. I think it’s a combination of a lot of those things I just mentioned on why Kirk feels that way, and [it’s] why we feel that way about him.”
Cousins was then asked about the benefits of avoiding a “quarterback competition” and being able to hit the ground running in Minnesota.
“Internal competition is healthy and can bring out the best in you, but to an extent,” Cousins said. “At some point, you have to be given a license to lead – you have to be given permission to take charge. And when you’re still having internal competition, it’s hard to do that.”
Cousins used his career at Michigan State as an example, during which he initially didn’t know when – or if – he would be a starter.
“It was hard to really assert my personality in the locker room because I didn’t want to step on the toes of the other people,” Cousins said. “When you know your role and it’s been defined, you can then lead from a place of greater comfort and from that platform. And I think that helps the overall dynamic.”
So what does that place of leadership look like for Cousins?
The quarterback pointed out that it can play out in a variety of ways, from sharing thoughts or comments with teammates after practice to speaking up in a team meeting about the way a route is drawn up.
Cousins emphasized that designation as the starter from coaches allows him to speak freely in that way.
Now four-plus months into signing with the Vikings as a free agent, Cousins has been able to spend time digesting Minnesota’s playbook and growing even more confident in his ability to lead the offense.
“The terminology is starting to become my first language as opposed to my second language,” Cousins explained. “I don’t find myself reverting back to how we used to call things in the past at other places I was at.”
A greater comfort level has allowed Cousins to think less and react more.
Looking toward the practice field he had recently exited, Cousins said that making calls at the line of scrimmage is “now instinctual.”
“I feel like I’m able to just go play,” Cousins said.
“By no means do I feel like ‘I’m there,’ and it’s done,” he added. “But I’m certainly farther along than I was in April.”
Another piece of Cousins’ increased comfort level is his evolving relationships with teammates.
Fans may have observed from afar a slew of social media interactions between Cousins, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, during which the three Twitter-quipped back and forth in anticipation of training camp.
Fans were entertained by the public exchange, but more important is the genuine chemistry growing between Cousins and his new teammates as they prepare for the 2018 season.
When asked about the friendship, Cousins smiled before explaining that what he most appreciates about his comrades in Minnesota is their very real passion for the game of football.
“That was genuine,” Cousins said of Thielen’s excitement to get camp underway. “They’re not doing that to be self-promotional. They really do enjoy working.”
He added that teammates like Thielen and Diggs are “easy to work with” and easy to lead because of their drive to compete and to constantly improve.
“They love playing this game,” Cousins said. “There are people in this league who love what football brings them, but they don’t really love football. We’ve got a lot of guys on this team who love football, regardless of what it brings them – and that’s obviously fun to work with and play with.”