EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings have a bit of a quarterback balancing act.
Kirk Cousins' role as a starter is unchanged, but Minnesota is trying to prepare him for the regular season while limiting exposure to an injury.
The Vikings also are rapidly trying to develop the game readiness of Jake Browning and Kellen Mond.
Against Denver last Saturday, Minnesota opted to start Browning, and the 2019 undrafted free agent looked a little rusty in his first NFL exhibition action since his rookie season. Mond, a third-round pick, relieved Browning in the second quarter.
Neither had a day for the ages against the Broncos.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, however, said Mond's practice on Monday was his best to that point.
"I think every time he practices, he gets a little bit better. He's making improvements," Offensive Coordinator Klint Kubiak said Wednesday. "Got thrown in there [Saturday] after not having a ton of practice, and he did a lot of things well. But he's gotta keep making slow improvements and we're working with him every day. His coach, Andrew [Janocko], is really putting a lot of pressure on him and he's showing little improvements, which is good."
Janocko said Mond has shown great work ethic after missing several days of practices. Asked if he wants the rookie to experience more passing situations, the first-year quarterbacks coach said, "We just want to get him feeling most comfortable within our offense and how we're going to operate as an offense – what we need in that situation, in that period, in that day or in that game."
Browning performed admirably for a stretch of camp when he was the only QB available, including the annual Night Practice at TCO Stadium on July 31.
"I think the big thing Jake's learning right now is how to operate within the situation that he's given," Janocko said. "So whether he's starting the [practice] period, whether he's coming in during the period and what the offense needs – protecting the football, getting us in and out of the huddle – I think that's all part of Jake's evolution as a quarterback, a leader and a decision maker."
It's been nearly a full decade since Cousins was a rookie in a quarterback competition with Washington. He said it's "just a long process" of gaining valuable experience.
"Every day stacking it up, and you look back after a few years and you feel like, 'Man, I'm a more experienced player than I was before. I'm more comfortable than I was before.' There is no minute that it suddenly flips, but you just keep stacking up the days.
"It's kind of a roller coaster," he continued. "You have your good days where you realize you've taken some steps. And you take a step back, but you kind of just keep pushing and keep trying to climb in this league. But it does take time. Even guys who come out and have great early starts, you still have to kind of work it. 'OK, how do I sustain that? How do I keep that going week-in, week-out, year after year?' "
"Everybody's different. I think the reps are always valuable. You always get better from playing. So, as long as you can protect yourself and be ready for Week 1, I think it's always helpful to get out there and get that experience. But everybody's going to handle it different and those decisions are really beyond me. My job is to just be ready to play."
Cousins, Kubiak and Janocko did not specify how much time Cousins might play Saturday against Indianapolis, but signs are pointing to more first-teamers suiting up than last week when 31 players were listed before kickoff as not expected to play.
"I'd love for him to get some reps," Kubiak said. "I think our guys have had a lot of great practice work, so I don't feel like they have to get them. I know they will eventually, and that's going to be ultimately up to Coach Zimmer, I think it would only be helpful for him to get some live in-game reps."
If Cousins does play, he said he will be prepared to do so and value the opportunity.
"I think the reps are always valuable. You always get better from playing. So, as long as you can protect yourself and be ready for Week 1, I think it's always helpful to get out there and get that experience. But everybody's going to handle it different, and those decisions are really beyond me. My job is to just be ready to play."
Janocko, meanwhile, will balance coaching the quarterback on the field and using any spare moments to point things out along the sideline.
"I think with myself and with Klint, we have a good dynamic where we can evaluate the play that's going on, prep the next play and then just be able to take time in between plays to talk about 'What's the expectation on this play? What are we looking for?' in each individual snap," he said.
Quote of the Day
"I could talk about Ihmir [Smith-Marsette] for a little while. He's, first of all, a lot of fun. So, he's great for a locker room because he kind of makes — like I said, 'Groundhog Day,' the dog days of camp — you got a personality like Ihmir, it helps the team have fun. I remember at rookie minicamp, he got the music. So, he was controlling the music in the locker room. Well, when all the vets came back after rookie minicamp, he still had the music. We all kind of looked at him like, 'Alright, whatever, you can have the music.' He was doing a pretty good job as the DJ. I think some days he does, some days he doesn't. I think Kris Boyd and some other guys get in on the DJ work, too, but he does a good job with that. So, that kind of gives you a look into his personality. A lot of fun and he's a playmaker, which you're always looking for playmakers. I just told him the other day, there's parts of his game that we can improve. He can improve. He knows that and he's going to work at that. But he can run a post, he can make things happen, he can make big plays. I think he's going to do that. In preseason games and practice, you will see and have seen that he's a guy that can bring some juice."
— Cousins on rookie receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette
2 More Points
Here are two other takeaways from Wednesday's media session.
1. Second career in the secondary & Terence on tape
Patrick Peterson was drafted by Arizona with the fifth overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, the same overall spot from which Dallas tabbed Terence Newman in 2003.
Newman played nine seasons for the Cowboys before linking up with Zimmer and Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator Adam Zimmer in Cincinnati. The trio reconnected again, in Minnesota in 2015.
Newman turned 37 before that season kicked off but managed to start all 16 games and was a difference-maker for Vikings teams that reached the playoffs twice in his three seasons here.
Peterson hit 31 last month, but that's historically when questions begin about avoiding or offsetting a decline in elite athleticism.
Adam Zimmer said veterans like Newman and Peterson know how to go with what they've got left.
"Terence Newman didn't run 4.3 [in the 40-yard dash] like he did at Kansas State when he was here, but he knew how to play to his strengths, which was his intelligence, anticipating routes, being more patient at the line of scrimmage and making sure we were on top so we could break downhill instead of having to chase all the time, so I do think that helps," he said. "We were just watching some tape of Terence just right now and reminiscing how we used him."
2. Confident in Hill