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Transcript: Zimmer, Cousins and Iloka Addressed the Media Wednesday

Vikings Quarterback Kirk Cousins

Q: Do you look at Week 3 where you play and find out the most in the preseason?

A: I feel like this is our best chance at a dress rehearsal. We'd really like to establish a rhythm and build some confidence, get some reps together and just get a flow going of converting third downs, playing well in the red zone, moving the football, having to mix the run and the pass. We need all that to make up ground and be ready to go for Week 1.

Q:  How important is getting in the flow?

A: Getting a rhythm really helps. Many times, you can get that sometimes by going no huddle or getting up tempo, getting the defense on their heels. When you aren't converting third downs and you have penalties, when you have turnovers, you may be doing good things individually on some plays but it is hard to string them together. Anytime you go for 0-12 on third down in a game, you aren't' really giving your coordinator or your offense to develop a rhythm and put a drive together.

Q: How much progress do you think you and this offense has made together?

A: I think that is really hard because we do have the preseason games which are very small sample sizes. This one hopefully will be a better picture. Still hard to tell. But in practice we trade blows with the defense. We go down here on a drive and score but then they may have a great play and stop us on another period of practice. You just trade blows back and forth and it's hard to know where you are as a team. It's hard to simulate game day and the way an offense needs to operate just in practice. We do our best but that's why I think it does take the first few weeks of the regular season to really evaluate where you are as a team, as an offense. We'll do the best we can and that is where this Friday night we are all pretty excited to for this opportunity to get some level of measuring stick for where we are.

Q: Do you take anything different away from it if guys like Pat Elflein and Dalvin Cook aren't out there?

A: I think there are a lot of ways you can look at the preseason and discredit the outcome and say, "Well, let's not take that too seriously." I think you don't' have to look any further than last year's third preseason game here. I remember watching the game on TV. The way that game went was certainly not a tale of the way the seasons went for those two teams, especially out of the gate. Yet, I do think it tells you something. You have to learn from it and teach off of it. We are going to have injuries during the season. I was just watching the game I played in against Seattle last year. Four of our five starting offensive linemen were out at that point in the year. Unfortunately, you have to play with whoever is ready and you can't use injuries as an excuse.

Q: Do you have John DeFilippo and his system completely figured out?

A: I don't think you ever had it figured out. I remember when we played the Patriots in 2015, I just asked Tom [Brady], "At what point did it start clicking for you?" Essentially what I am asking him was, "At what point did you have it completely figured out?" He said, "It's still clicking. It's still a process." I've always taken that with me and felt like every day I come out here I pick up something new. I sharpen a skill. It will always be that way until the day I retire. Certainly, when you are in your first year in an offense and haven't played in a real game yet, there is a lot more sharpening to do than year five or six. If you are asking am I ready to go and ready to play at a high level, I do think that is where I need to be and that is what I like to think where I am.

Q: Do you like to pick the brains of other quarterbacks?

A: Yes, I think without being annoying, I do try to learn from others. At the Pro Bowl, I tried to ask a lot of questions of guys like Drew Brees and Dak Preskott and some of the other guys that were there, and even guys on defense. I find myself doing the same thing here with some of our top players on defense, trying to learn from them. I try to be a great question asker.

Q: What is the greatest common quarterback-specific denominator for success?

A: That's again a great question, and one of the things I've asked myself many times, "What is the consistent theme?" Because if I don't have it I better get it if I want to last in this league. I think there are many ways to define it or articulate it. But it is a love for the game and a passion for the game where this stuff matters. They come out to practice with intentionality and they stay after and study the game with a purpose. They know how to use their offseasons to get better. They lead teammates with a purpose. They take care of their health with a purpose. When you treat this game like a job and not a hobby and it matters to you, usually you got here for a reason, you'll end up being successful.

Q: How is your relationship with Dr. Tim Royer helped you off the field?

A: Dr. [Tim] Royer is actually coming in tomorrow and will meet with him again. He has just been really good for me and my mental state if you will. Just also my overall health. Just helping me to be at my best as a person and with my focus. He coaches me on my sleep and those kinds of things. He's been a big asset for me. One of the many people in my corner, on my team if you will, that is helping me be ready week in and week out.

Q: Where would you rank yourself on a personal comfort with the whole offense and everything?

A: That is a great question and one that I would like to have the answer to as well. I can't give you a number because I just think it's too much a shot in the dark. I think this next game will be a better indication. But I think that's my challenge in the past as well, in training camp, in preseason and OTAs is you just don't really know truly where you are until you get up and play some games and get in live action for a few weeks. I am going to join the club there in not having a great answer for you. We have to go out and play and earn our way and prove it.

Q: Does Dalvin Cook seem like he is ready to go?

A: He looks ready to go. There is no hitch or anything in movement skills that suggest limitations. I think it is going to come down to, or maybe he gets in this Friday, I don't know. But if not, the regular season is where we want to get him his touches and have him make a major impact.

Q: Does getting Rashod Hill and Mike Remmers back help set up a good pocket?

A: I think getting those guys back is a big asset. Offensive line plays a big deal, especially when you're someone like me who is going to try to throw from the pocket and isn't going to try to make guys miss and run around a long time. The sturdier the pocket can be, the better off we are. I want to progress through my reads and potentially work all the way through a progression. It takes protection to do that. Anytime you can get players who have been in the fight before and have seen all the blitzes that can be thrown at you and have played in big games, it gives you a little more comfort and confidence. Certainly not just for me, but the play caller designing the schemes gives him a little more freedom to call the whole playbook.

Q: How does it feel to have an offensive coordinator that is that honest to admit mistakes this preseason?

A: Coach [John] DeFilippo always has been from the day I met him someone who points the finger at himself. He is not afraid to say, "Hey, that is on me." He is a class act that way. I just so enjoy working with him. I think we are wired very similarly in the way we see life, the way we see the game. He is a great encourager to me. He does a great job of keeping me up and keeping me going and motivated. He has done a good job with some of the injuries we've had as well of game planning and trying to call a game that focuses on our strengths and tries to hide our weaknesses and that is the mark of a great play caller. 

Q: How has your communication with John DeFilippo evolved on the sideline?

A: Just giving him feedback as plays are coming in of all the little things. When you are on the sideline, you have a lot of noise coming in as opposed to when you're in the box. I may say, "Hey, when that call came in, you were yelling because it's loud in the stadium but I can hear you just fine. In the headset, it is going to come through clearer if you just say it clearly." So there are little tid bits I can give him like that. Again, he is very coachable, listens, which is awesome. There are other times where then he then coming off of a series can say to me, "Hey, what were you doing with your feet there or why didn't you work the X? He was open." There can be more direct communication there rather than having to get on the phone and talk to him up in the box. It's a little more personal on the sideline.

Q: Have you spent extra time with Pat Elflein and what does that environment include?

A: I think it's pretty straightforward so we don't have one-on-one meetings after practice. If he has questions, he'll ask me. The other day he said, "Hey I saw in walk through there was a rep where the safety was topping the nickel and you didn't change the protection over there. What was the reason for that?" We'll talk about those kinds of things when they come up. But it's not every play. I think he has enough reps now in the bank and we'll get enough reps here in practice to be ready to go. I've played with probably three or four different centers last year in games. At any one moment, if a player goes down at center, you have to be ready to play with the next one. It is not ideal but for Pat to just have to just jump in and go, that tends to be more the way NFL football works than to have had years with them. That is more a luxury than the norm.

Q: What is the biggest advantage to have the receivers in bunch formations?

A: There is a few different things I think when you can get reduced splits by your receivers, it tends to get defensive backs to have to play off techniques. Now you're not getting pressed and jammed off the line of scrimmage quite as often. In stack alignments, you can create some confusion for a defense as to who is releasing where and who becomes the new number one, number two and number three to the defense as you present it. Shifts and motions can do the exact same thing. I know that it can unsettle defenses a little bit when you're always changing strengths and formations and motions. You force them to communicate on the fly and make adjustments. Certain defenses are affected by it more than others. It is just one more thing to throw at them to hopefully make them a little unsettled. But as an offense, you have to be on it. You have to learn all those shifts and understand how you fit in. It is just a complex game and a thinking man's game. We certainly have that as a part of our offense.

Q: How much of the red zone passing is trust with the receivers in a tighter area?

A: I think red zone football is unique because the windows are smaller, there is less grass for the defense to defend so the players are going to be less spread out. So your timing, when the ball is being released, where it's being thrown has to be that much more precise. The route depths, when they are coming out of their breaks, the angles that they are taking and understanding the defenses and the routes that the defenses conceding as opposed to the ones they are trying to take away. All that has to be studied and understood. But I would echo that the same is true, except for the condensed area, the same is true in the field as well. It is a precise game. We need people to be on the details. If we are not going to be on the details, we're probably not even going to get to the red zone to then be able to have a chance in that area either.

Q: What did you do to celebrate your birthday?

A: Not much. After the game, I wanted to go to Portillo's, which is in Woodbury. They also have one in Maple Grove. I love that place. Grew up in Chicago and was thrilled to hear they have a couple here in the Twin Cities. I went to Portillo's Saturday night and then other than that, just kind of sat around on Sunday on my birthday. As we were leaving the other night and the coaches said, "Quarterbacks, can you stay? Do you have anywhere to be?" I looked at him and said, "I have no life here. I am here to play football for the Minnesota Vikings. I don't have a whole lot else going on. You let me know. I'll be here." I found that to be true on my birthday as well. I sit around, I have the free time but I don't really know what to do. I haven't really built that much of a life here yet so it was kind of funny.

Q: What do you order at Portillo's?

A: I get the whole gamut. It's not the best for me, but Chicago dog, Italian beef with sweet peppers. I like it dry or drier. Double cheeseburger, fries. The crinkle-cut fries are the best. The chocolate cake shake is hard to beat. I didn't do all that. I've been known when I go to Chicago to do all that.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer

It should be a heck of a test [this Friday], Seattle is very good, Russell Wilson makes a lot of plays on the move, so we're going to have be really good defensively. I hope we perform better offensively than we did last week, third downs, holding on to the ball, we need to improve in a lot of areas. Hopefully we do that and play a lot better this week.

Q: What's your vision for how George Iloka can help your team?

A: George is a very smart guy, he's helped us a lot in the past. I can't remember if it was his rookie year or his second year that he was starting [in Cincinnati]. He's very smart, a good tackler, he's going to be where he's supposed to be all the time. He pretty much knows a lot of things that we're doing, and we went over most of the calls with him today and he knew probably 85 percent of them.

Q: Were you interested in signing Iloka as soon as he became available?

A: We're interested in everybody that becomes available, we try to take a look at them.

Q: How do you plan on rotating safeties onto the field?

A: We'll let all of that work out in the next couple of weeks. I think it will help special teams, I think it will help some of our packages that we have.

Q: Will George play special teams?

A: Yeah, he broke his hand on special teams once, punching a guy. I still use that story. The guys got a helmet on and he punched him. I told him that last night when I talked to him on the phone. I said, "I still use you as a not-example."

Q: Is the number of good defensive backs you have allow you to use them as chess pieces?

A: Yeah. We got some big guys in there, so we can use them some different ways. Even on the goal line, because we're using bigger guys down there. Honestly we're just trying to add good football players and we'll let it all sort out at the end.

Q: Is there any plan on Friday for Dalvin?

A: I don't know. I guess we'll just have to see.

Q: Have you seen the offense respond in practice to a sloppy game against Jacksonville?

A: I thought that they were better today. When you go against guys every day, I don't know if it's ever really a good test because the defense knows a lot of their plays and they're still installing, but I thought they looked a lot better today. Hopefully they look good Friday night.

Q: Do you use someone like Tom Johnson, even though he's with Seattle now, as an example as someone who goes undrafted but can still earn their way into the NFL?

A: Yeah, actually not just him, there's been several of those kind of guys that I've had. But yeah, he's a great example. Shamar [Stephen], who is there as well, a seventh-round draft pick, the more of those kind of guys that you get helps the salary cap and it helps with the draft, things like that.

Q: What have you seen from some of the backup safeties, such as Jayron Kearse and Anthony Harris?

A: They're doing good. This wasn't a move to replace anyone, this was a move to get as many good players as we can. He [Iloka] became available, so I think we're fortunate.

Q: Have you seen any hesitation from Mike Remmers or Rashod Hill as they return to practice?

A: No, I think they'll get some reps this week.

Q: Are your pieces on the offensive line back together then?

A: Yeah, we need to firm up the pocket a little bit, stay stout in there. That'll help the quarterback some.

Q: You've brought in a couple of different fullback options in the last few days. Do you see these additions challenging CJ Ham for a roster spot?

A: I don't know. I haven't really seen them much yet. We'll evaluate after these next two ball games. CJ does a good job though, he's a good football player, helps on special teams and does his job on offense. He's a good player.

Q: How attractive is Marcus Sherels' reliability to coaches?

A: A lot. He can play a lot of different positions. He's a good returner, a good kickoff returner. Marcus doesn't say much, he's just a kid that goes out there and works real hard every day and plays with really good technique most of the time. You can rely on him. He does a good job as a gunner on special teams, we've played games with him at nickel and corner. He's' done a real good job.

Q: Will George Iloka be able to walk in and recognize everything in the playbook from his time in Cincinnati?

A: I wouldn't say everything, but there's a large percentage of things. Like I said before, probably 85 percent. But like I said before, he's a really smart guy, takes really, really good notes. He knows what I look for.

Vikings Safety George Iloka

Q: What made Minnesota the best place for you?

A: I know Coach Zim and have a good relationship with him. He called me on the phone, we spoke. I'm comfortable with the system, the playbook, and this is a good team. They were real close last year. They were on the brink of making it to the Super Bowl and I'm just here to help the team out in any way I can. Just my relationship with ZIm, this facility, and the kind of team that they have made it a no-brainer.

Q: How quickly did the Vikings shoot up your list of options when you got cut?

A: Let's see it's 10 o'clock right now…10 hours ago. I woke up at 5:00, got to the airport at 5:30, had a flight at seven and got off the plane and started practicing. That's the business and speaking with Zim made me comfortable. Obviously, how late into camp it is with like 10 days, two weeks left, whatever it is. It doesn't give you much time to pick up other systems and playbooks and things like that. I think I'm a smart player, I could but obviously knowing the system here and knowing Zim and kind of what he wants made it a little easier. 

Q: Did knowing the system put the Vikings at the top of your list?

A: Well, I had teams talking to me earlier into the process. Like I said, the Vikings came out of nowhere pretty much – late last evening. Talked to Zim and then the ball just got rolling real fast, so I wouldn't even say they were an option two days ago because there was no communication with them. Obviously my priority was to go into a good situation, got to a winning team, and a place that had a plan for me or just a place that I felt that I could help the team out in any kind of way so that's what made this decision pretty easy.

Q: What was Coach Zimmer's pitch to you about coming here?

A: There was no pitch. He drafted me in Cincinnati. We have a good relationship, even when he left Cincinnati to come here and I just told him to be the same Zim you were when I was a rookie. That's kind of why I always liked him – hard coach, exact, real good with his defense and that's the kind of player I am. The only thing he pitched to was, "You know the system and I want you here". And that was enough for me.

Q: Were you holding out hope that the Vikings would reach out? Is this why you took some time to make a decision?

A: No, I talked to other teams in systems that I do know. It wasn't that I was holding off for anything. I was just taking my time to make the right decision. That's just what it came down to. I wasn't waiting for any team in particular. This is obviously the best situation that I can go into and I'm happy to be here and that's what it pretty much came down to.

Q: What do you like best about Coach Zimmer's style?

A: I'm used to his style. I grew up in Texas and that's how my high school coach was. The linebacker coach in Boise State was the same way. I'm used to that style. It doesn't matter either way, he just has a good defense. I mean this is a good defense. I was on the opposite side of it last year when we played them and I was on Cincinnati's defense. Just seeing those guys play – disciplined squad, a team that can get to the ball, and they have a great secondary. I just wanted to come to a team that obviously could make the playoffs and make a push into for the Super Bowl and I could help anywhere I can. So that's what sold me. 

Q: Did getting cut on Sunday catch you off guard?

A: Definitely. That caught everybody off guard. I'm over it now. It is what it is. It caught a lot of people off guard, definitely me. Just sitting down eating with my wife and got a phone call from my agent, but hey, that's the business. That's the business.That's the kind of things we sign up for, things happen. At the end of the day you're just a number for the most part. That's that. I look forward to this opportunity right here. I thanked Cincinnati for the opportunity they gave me, unfortunately it couldn't work out. Wish it would have turned out differently in terms of how they released me, but I'm not dwelling on that now. I'm in a good situation here. I'm where I'm wanted. I'm where I want to be and I'm ready to help this team out however I can.

Q: In 2016, did you come close to coming to Minnesota?

A: Definitely, definitely.

Q: Can you tell us about that?

A: I mean, don't really need to dive into details. I mean they were one of many teams that were actively interested in me coming out and it didn't work out, but everything happens for a reason. I'm here now.

Q: Do you have expectations to move into the starting lineup?

A: My expectation is to come in, just compete, help this team out in any way I can, be a veteran presence and help the young guys and as soon as I pick up the playbook help them out as much as I can, add depth, and be accountable and be someone that players can look to and be like, "That's how you want to play". However that capacity it comes into, I'm fine with that. Like I said, the situation wasn't ideal in terms of when I got released so I'm going to make the best out of this situation and help this team make a push into the playoffs.

Q: Do you expect to play on Friday?

A: I mean I got off the plane and started practicing and they wouldn't want me to come out here this fast to practice if they didn't have plans of playing me in some capacity. Right now I got to meet with the coaches in 15 minutes to try and pick up on the defense, things that are different from when I was a rookie so to say. But I should be out there to some degree.

*Q: How familiar did it feel being out there? *

A: It felt very familiar. I would say about 80 percent, at least from what they told me and just hearing the calls we similar. He's changed some things up, obviously, some names, some calls, a little bit of philosophy here and there, but it'll be easy. Now it's my job to do my due diligence study the playbook, get with the coaches, and learning it. Like I said, it's late into training camp they have a season to worry about and I don't want to be a distraction. I just want to come in and learn it as fast as I can and when called upon do what I have to do.

Q: Why only a one year deal?

A: Yeah, I just got release two days ago. Most teams this late into the year kind of have a plan in terms whatever their situation is. You have a plan all offseason to have a plan going forward and by this late in the season you're like, "Alright, we have our guys and this, this, and that". So for me I just wanted to sign a one year deal and help this team out and we'll see what the future holds.

Q: Having the chance to be paired with someone like Harrison Smith must be something that you're excited about?

A: Yeah, I mean obviously he's a tremendous player, Pro Bowl-caliber player. I think he made All-Pro, so I know about him pretty well. They [Cincinnati] have the same system, so they were constantly showing up on our tape when I was in Cincinnati, just for reference and things like that. I came out with him in the draft, we played together at the Senior Bowl, so I know about him as a player real well. [Andrew] Sendejo has done good things for this team as well, so like I said I'm just coming here to add depth and when called upon go out there and play well. However that comes out, we'll see.

Q: How do you feel about wearing number 28, considering it used to be worn by Adrian Peterson?

A: Honestly the roster is full right now, and they just rushed me from the plane to practice like I said. I just think that was the only number available, so they just threw me in it. Obviously what Adrian did for the Minnesota Vikings no one can match, he's a future Hall of Famer. He's an elite running back, and I don't think it's any bigger than what they try to make it. They just had to throw me a number to get out there, and after everything is said and done most likely I'll switch to a different number.

Q: Zimmer still tells about a story about you punching a guy in the helmet. Do you remember that?

A: Yep, he actually talked about that on the phone. I was like, "Do you still use that example?" But yeah, that was out of character for me, but I was young. It's funny now, but it wasn't funny then, but hey, I'm just glad I could be that example. If they say, "Don't punch a helmet, you could break your hand," that was me about six years ago. It's funny.

Q: How did learning from Terence Newman while he was in Cincinnati help your career?

A: It helped me a lot. Cincinnati had great veterans. He's still a vet, but he was a vet then as well. When I came in as a rookie, he was just someone that you could lean on. He was dependable as a player, and he just did everything right on and off the field. He's very knowledgably, and you could come to him about anything. He plays corner and nickel and he could tell you about the safety. I think that tells you about him as a player and as a man, that he takes pride in his craft and he takes pride in understanding and learning the system. He helped me out a lot. Him, Reggie Nelson, Leon Hall, Chris Crocker, those guys when I first came to Cincinnati were great vets, so I do appreciate them today.

Q: How comfortable are you moving to different spots around the defense?

A: I'm comfortable with whatever they ask me to do. I feel like I'm very knowledgeable, I'm very versatile, and however they plan to use me I just want to play well for them.