Transcript: Stefanski, Cousins and Smith Jr. Addressed the Media Wednesday

Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski

Alright, good to see everybody. It’s been a nice couple days here as we get started. Coach Zim (Mike Zimmer) talked about it yesterday, I think there’s great value in bringing in the rookies and select vets for these few days here. The guys have been working really hard in the meeting room, out here on the field. I can tell you we accomplished a lot even in the first couple days here, day and a half. Really looking forward to the vets getting back here on Thursday. Got a lot of work to do and we’re ready to get started. I’m excited. This is year two at TCO Performance Center so for even our coaches understanding the layout, where the fields are, the locker room and getting around here so that helps, that familiarity. Really looking forward to our fans being out here. I know our players, myself, we enjoy when there’s a lot of people out here and we feed off their energy so looking forward to Thursday kicking it off with the vets.

Q: Looking back at last year, how much does it help now to have the game plans in your back pocket?

A: I think we’ve moved on from last year. I think certainly any experience I’ve had in any year, in any capacity, I am utilizing that experience for this current job. As going back to last year and thinking about different game plans, that was the off-season. We pulled this thing apart and moved forward past last year. 

Q: How does that allow you to communicate better as the coordinator and how does your relationship with Kirk Cousins evolve?

A: I know Kirk (Cousins) really well and he knows me really well, so we don’t have to spend a ton of time together to get to know each other. We’ve spent enough time with each other, probably sick of each other at this point, so we have a relationship. We have a dialogue every day. I am so comfortable with the person he is and I am really comfortable with the coaching we have that’s taking place in that meeting room and out here on the field. I think our relationship, again, being one year under our belt, we understand each other.

Q: Having that relationship, does that allow him to be more vocal with you?

A: Yeah, we encourage all of our players, and last year certainly, we want feedback from all of our players. Ultimately, we are the coach and they are the player, but there is nothing wrong with having a dialogue with every position. Kirk (Cousins) certainly, we have great dialogue in the meeting room. Kirk mentioned we have great dialogue out here on the field.

Q: What is your biggest concern as the veterans are getting ready to report?

A: I don’t really look at it that way. We as a coaching staff have so much to accomplish in these first few days of training camp and we are kind of chomping at the bit to get our guys back in here and I look back on our spring and I think we really laid a sound foundation. I think the coaches did an outstanding job of teaching. I think the players were so receptive to learning. Now it’s our job in these first few days of camp to get all our guys back under one roof and reinforce that foundation, so for us that is kind of our focus as opposed to looking at concerns. We have so much on our plate: back to teaching the system, getting the guys to knock off any rust, mental and physical and then get going.

Q: When you have two receivers like Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, how challenging can it be for the younger guys to carve out a role for themselves?

A: I think those things kind of play themselves out, at every position. I think we know who the players with experience are at a position. You mentioned Stefon (Diggs) and Adam (Thielen) and certainly those are our top two guys. I think there are so many reps that have to take place and we are miles to go before this whole thing shakes out, so I certainly think that we will have a good understanding of players’ strengths and you even saw it in the spring. You saw some guys that showed you something and it could’ve been in a meeting room. It could have been out on the practice field, so I think we will have plenty reps to see that shake out.

Q: It’s a position battle at the No. 3 receiver we are all looking at, do you go into it looking at certain traits at the early part of camp?

A: Not so much early on in camp, and I think Kirk (Cousins) mentioned it before, each of our guys has a skill set and they have some skills that are maybe better than the other. We understand that as coaches and it is our job to accentuate the positives and bring them along in an area that they need some work in.

Q: What did you learn about Irv Smith Jr. and his skills during minicamp and how can you use him in this offense?

A: I think Irv (Smith Jr.) is a very receptive to coaching type of player. I can tell you Brian Pariani and Irv spent a lot of time together and I love watching Irv out here in his individual period because he’s taking coaching and applying it to the next rim. He came from a pretty good program down there (Alabama) and they certainly worked him and his technique, it’s not there, it’s not perfect by no means, but the kid is really willing to work and that’s what I appreciate about Irv.

Q: What specific things is Kirk Cousins more comfortable with from a year ago last year with having a year under his belt?

A: I don’t know I think for all of our players this is a new system so that was a lot of the time in the spring was working on that and we were completely in teaching and learning phase and we really aren’t out of that yet. I think Kirk (Cousins), like all of our guys, we are having some really good meeting time out here. Part of that is with phase one and phase two in the offseason you are limited to how much time you can spend with the veteran quarterbacks. Here what is so valuable about this is we spend a ton of time in that meeting room, we spend great time on this practice field, we are really trying to get to the nitty gritty of our system and that is why I think it is so great that we have all of our quarterbacks here for the next first three days.

Q: What have you seen with Kirk Cousins with how he is entering his second year, maybe how he is approaching it?

A: I don’t see an approach that is any different. Kirk (Cousins) is consummate pro, like our locker room we have a bunch of guys that take this job really seriously they work on their craft. I appreciate the guy, he is here just like all the rookies. He is attentive in meetings, I know he just mentioned he is taking a ton of notes. He is certainly a guy you don’t have to prod him to work on his craft, he is already doing it.

Q: What should the relationship be between the coordinator and the quarterback? Does it have to go deep, does it have to be personal, does it have to be professional?

A: I don’t know how deep it is but, I go back to when you are a position coach you spend a ton of time with your players so I had a full year of working with Kirk (Cousins) and so on the personal level, sure you share a lot of stories. Your families get closer, certainly I think that only helps when there is an understanding and a healthy respect with each other but it is my job to do that with all of our players I wouldn’t want to just do that with the quarterback. I understand that the play caller and the quarterback have to have a relationship.

Q: There are a lot of veteran quarterbacks so to speak that would not come in early. Would not be advanced enough to realize this is about relationships with the younger kids, when later in the season it comes into play. What does that say about the quarterbacks here?

A: One of the things we talked about is those players don’t have to be here, they get to be here. And really to take every opportunity that we are getting and lets apply it because we aren’t just out here to put a check next to a box we are trying to get better. In particular, I think our coaches are outstanding teachers. Watching these last few days, listen to our coaches teach, getting all this information across to our players, I think it is so impressive to watch these guys work together.

Q: What is the biggest step young running backs have to take when they get here?

A: It’s always pass protection. Whenever a running back is coming out of college, they list his traits and they say he needs to work on pass protection. That is everybody. Luckily we have Kennedy Polamalu and Kennedy is outstanding. He is up to the task so it is just taking those guys through drills and understanding the technique and the spending a real healthy amount of time in that meeting room because the NFL can get complicated in some of the looks they can show you. Again I don’t want to sound like a broken record but I think there is such great value in Coach (Mike) Zimmer in bringing these rookies back early to get these meetings that we are getting with these guys are just great.

Q: Do you already have a pretty good idea of what your rookie running backs and pass-catchers can do, or are you still learning that as you go?

A: I think we have a good understanding, but we’re certainly still learning about our players. We’ve talked about as a staff, someone is going to surprise us at this camp, someone is going to show up and I don’t know who that is. We have our ideas and we’ve seen it, in the spring we saw some guys flash but we’re going to get a ton of reps and I think you will see somebody flash and then it’s going to be our job to understand what that guy can do and how he can help us.

Q: What progress do you see in Kirk Cousins working with Garrett Bradbury since he has a bonus three days at camp?

A: Again, I think those guys are tied at the hip together out here. That’s no mistake. Those guys are spending time together because they’re in close quarters during the season. They’re getting to know each other and getting to know this offense.

Q: Will your gameday interaction with Rick Dennison be different than your typical offensive line coach would be?

A: I don’t know yet. I don’t speculate that it’s going to be much different. Rick (Dennison) is the run game coordinator, has done it at a really high level. I can tell you just spending the few months with him, the guy is outstanding schematically. He’s great as a teacher. Again, I go back to watching his individual drills, how good he is technically. I know as we get into game planning, and we’ve already had discussions about this, he’s going to be invaluable to me on game day because it’s nice to have a voice there that has called plays before and understands our scheme and understands how to attack defenses.

Q: Do you try to bounce anything like that off of him, being a run game coordinator and trying to simulate it out here and in the preseason?

A: It’s hard to simulate in practice. There is certainly a ton of conversations that we have in terms of what we want to practice, how we want to practice it, what formation we want to run this out of, so there’s a constant dialogue going on there. I think until we get into the preseason then we can work on our system and how it works during the game.

Q: Do you call the play and then he sets the run blocking, and it gets communicated, or what does that mean?

A: I don’t think it’s any different than what I’ve been around for my career. Play-calling is a collaborative effort, and certainly, we have an outstanding offensive line coach/run game coordinator. We work together. So, really the focus is on the game plan that you put in Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and then the play-calling we’ve already decided these are the plays that we want to run, we’ve talked about what we want to run early. So, it’s less in the moment having a dialogue, it’s more a great dialogue throughout the week. Specifically, that Rico (Rick Dennison) and I will have.

Q: What are your impressions of Khari Blasingame?

A: Smart kid, obviously, Vanderbilt. He catches the ball extremely well which has been impressive. He’s very diligent about his work. We’re lining him up in different positions because when you get out here and your roster numbers are a little bit low, we’re going to have to line him up at a few different places and he hasn’t missed a beat. I’ve been impressed with him and he’s working really hard with Kennedy [Polamalu].

Q: What are you looking for out of the rookies?

A: We just talked about, for the rookies, showing up and being as attentive as they can in that meeting room. The nice part of these first three days is that we can slow down. The vets aren’t here so we can really be diligent about teaching and learning. We put as much emphasis on those meeting rooms as we do out here on the practice field. So far, so good. I think the rookies are really taking to coaching, taking to what we’re asking of them and they’re really putting their best foot forward.

Vikings Quarterback Kirk Cousins

It was a great summer break, great time with family. Connected with a couple of teammates, but otherwise now we’re back to work and we’re going to be grinding from now until hopefully February. It’s good to be here and just have this time right now, a little more of a walk thru emphasis, slower tempo, get back into football mode. Just building a rapport with teammates and kind of laying the initial foundation for this 2019 season. So here we go, no looking back and full speed again.

Q: Garrett Bradbury was saying that it’s very important for him to have you here, to continue what you started in OTAs. How important is that relationship, to be here early for him?

A: It’s great. We just had a protection walk thru for about 20 minutes that I thought was very productive, and we covered things that we hadn’t covered before. I think that in and of itself is worth being here. We’ll get basically three days of that, and hopefully come out the other side with just even more of a foundation from which we can work. The vets get here, the defense gets here, we’ll start going full speed and we’ll be glad we had this time on task right now to be able to play at a high level when it’s full go.

Q: What’s your focus when you are here early? Are you more in a teaching mode with some of these guys?

A: I’m always in a learning mode. I don’t know that it’s a teaching mode. I think I’m going to communicate, try to encourage a guy when I feel like he’s doing something right and coach him when I feel like he’s doing something wrong. But we have so many coaches, we’ve got a lot of voices out there telling these guys what to do. If anything, I just want to be an encourager and affirm them when they’re doing things the right way and ask questions, too. A lot of times I can learn from even these younger guys as to what they’re seeing or what their issue is. It’s good to get to know these guys. Unfortunately with the way the NFL works, you bring in so many players and you only keep 53, but many of them, even if they’re released, they could be back on the practice squad, could be back mid-season when you have injuries and there’s some attrition. Building a rapport with even these younger players who have only been here for a short amount of time, it can come back to help you later in the year when things inevitably change.

Q: What is it like having so many coaches? How do you kind of figure out who to listen to?

A: Well you listen to all of them, right? And they’re all on the same pace. They have staff meetings, and it’s one voice. I’m not concerned about it being multiple messages. I have an abundance of resources when it comes to picking Coach Zimmer’s brain during the walk thru or talking to Kevin [Stefanski], talking to Klint [Kubiak], Gary [Kubiak]. As a quarterback you really want to be very connected with the offensive line coach, and so Coach [Rick] Dennison and A.J. [Andrew Janocko], there’s no end. And Coach [Drew] Petzing as the receivers coach, you’re always trying to understand, “Hey, what are you telling these guys?”, and, “What are they hearing from you?” We got a lot of staff, and that’s a good thing. It’s great to have that much support and that many good football minds contributing to our plan.

Q: Has Garrett Bradbury picked up protection calls and the playbook faster than you’d expect from a rookie?

A: He’s very mature. Just talking to him in the locker room, I just feel like I’m not talking to someone who’s right out of college. I feel like I’m talking to someone who’s about my age, and I think that makes it a little easier, to just be on the same page and work together. I think that inevitably you go against a guy like Aaron Donald, and its like, “You know, I wasn’t blocking a lot of these guys in the ACC.” Occasionally, but not a lot. So there’s always those wake-up call moments in your rookie year. I’m excited for the player he can be, and I know the coaches are. I think he’s picked up things pretty quickly for how much we’ve thrown at him and he’s handled it with a calm and a coolness about him that is also great to see. So that’s been real positive.

Q: Is there anything special you can do with Irv Smith Jr. or any of the rookie receivers to figure out what their strengths are as pass catchers?

A: Yes. Many of them were brought in undrafted because they have a specific trait that they can bring to the table. We want to understand what that is and extenuate it. If a can roll, if he’s a 4.3 [40 yard dash] guy, and maybe there’s some limitations in some other parts of playing the receiver position, but he’s a 4.3 guy, well let’s get him in our deep routes and let’s get him a chance to get behind some safeties and launch. So learning those players’ strengths and then working them in the progression when you know, “Hey, this play gives them a chance to put a show on.” And then also understanding that this route isn’t his sweet spot, so let’s talk about working elsewhere. That’s why understanding personnel is really important, and that’s certainly a point of emphasis, especially with these younger players who many of which have a specific trait as to why they’re here, and we’re trying to see if that trait can really help us.

Q: Are you approaching this season any differently?

A: Am I approaching it differently in any way? I’m sure there’s some differences, being that every year you pick something up new. I think what will never change is getting up in the morning, being attentive, taking notes, even plays like drive scissors, that I’ve installed for now eight years. When drive scissors gets up on the board, I’m taking notes like it’s my first time learning it, because that’s just the way you go about your business. That’ll always be the same. I’m sure with it being my second year here and my eighth year in the league, you just continue to evolve as a player and ask different questions and have more authority or assert yourself more. But probably more similar then different, and ultimately I and we are going to be evaluated on things far from training camp. It’s going to come down to those 16 regular season games and then beyond that. Unfortunately you grind in training camp, and then you get to Labor Day weekend and you look around and you’re like, “All that work, and I got nothing to show for it yet.” Hopefully you lay a good foundation, and then hopefully it shows on Sundays in the fall, but the nature of this next month and a half is that whether it’s really good or really bad, it’s not what the narrative becomes on you. You have to translate that into a really good season.

Q: How much time off where you able to take this past month?

A: It’s a mixed bag. It’s a balance. I’ve learned that for me, because it is, like I said, six weeks here where you’re really in it from the moment you get up to the moment you go to bed, and then you finish that and you say, “Oh wait a minute, we still have a whole season to play.” I like to pace myself in the summer. Even my training, I try to get a little creative and do some other things, like playing tennis. Just things where I can still get a sweat and work on agility, but also not constantly doing the same drops and the same footwork over and over and over. But there’s still a big component of that, and I had those youth football camps that I do, and some time with family. A little bit of travel, it was my five year anniversary so my wife made sure that we got away up to northern Michigan for that. So you got a variety of things that you do, and just try to enjoy it all and then hit the ground running when you get back here.

Q: Did you throw to any Vikings receivers over the break?

A: You know, I just wanted to make it simple for the guys, so Chad Beebe and Tyler Conklin were kind of in the area. Laquon Treadwell as well, they’re all kind of within a two to three hour drive of where I am, so I said why don’t you guys come up, we’ll through a little bit, connect. But I wasn’t going to ask anybody to get on a plane and come fly there, just because the summer weeks are so precious and guys want to be with their families. If I did say, “Hey, come here,” they would be there, but I want them to be able to enjoy that time with their families. We have a lot of time here to get together, so just because they were a short drive I thought it was worth it maybe.

Q: How has it been to take information from Kevin Stefanski and process it quickly?

A: Each coach, they bring a different aspect. They tell us different things that we need to improve on, little things that they see. This game, the NFL, is about the little things. I just had to take those in and bring that aspect to help the team.

Q: Has the game been slowing down for you?

A: Yeah, it has. It’s still a learning process for me coming in as a rookie but I’m trying to do everything to be a pro, whatever I can do to help the team.

Q: What’s your biggest focus during these three days before the whole team gets back?

A: Every day I try to take one thing to work on. I really try to pride myself on being a complete tight end and just learning the plays every day, so just coming in every day with that mindset, coming in and trying to focus on one thing and get better.

Q: What are you learning about Kirk Cousins?

A: It’s awesome having these three days to come in and just have that time with Kirk (Cousins) and the other quarterbacks to gel and just get better connections with. We haven’t played much together so we have to get the timing down and it’s going well so far.

Q: How important is it to get to know them as guys to help with the chemistry on the field?

A: Just having everybody here now, coming up everybody is going to be here, so especially with the rookies everybody being here, I try to be a leader to those guys and just come in and show them how I work and how we need to work as a team.

Q: Where have you seen the greatest improvements?

A: Everybody is starting to gel together some more. Everybody is new. I was new. We just met each other so now we’re trying to become a team and it’s something that Coach (Mike) Zimmer preaches on us and Coach (Kevin) Stefanski, they preach that on us – be a unit. That’s what we’re trying to do each and every day.

Q: What were your lasting impressions from mini camp?

A: It’s definitely something that in the offseason I tried to—after coming off mini camp, I got to see where I need to improve on. In that month I had off I tried to just get with my trainer and really just focus on the little things that I need to improve on so come camp time, I’ll be ready.

Q: When you’re going through install, have you noticed plays that seem designed to emphasize your strengths?

A: Yeah, definitely. Coach Stefanski, he does a great job of putting everybody in the right position. He’s not going to do something that’s going to hurt the team or put somebody out of place. He goes with our strengths, and our weaknesses are something that we can improve on. But he definitely did a great job of implementing our strengths.

Q: What skills of yours do you believe will translate best to the NFL?

A: I feel like as a route runner, I can get open against man coverage very well. And just trying to read the zones and find the sweet spots to get open.

Q: You came from a program at Alabama that has produced a lot of NFL players. Is there anything you heard about the NFL while you were there that has proved to be true?

A: Playing at Alabama we had a lot of guess that played in the league, so they would come back and tell us different [things]. Everybody wanted to know how it is in the NFL, because that’s ultimately everybody’s goal. So I would just ask them what the biggest difference. In college, the game is fast, but in the NFL it’s even faster. And everybody has speed, so that’s what coaches are looking for. I say definitely the speed of the game, for sure.

Q: Where you able to see that at minicamp?

A: Oh yeah, for sure. Everybody is fast. Harrison Smith is breaking on the ball super fast, all the DBs. Just trying to improve on that. It’s crazy how fast the game is.

Q: Do you have any motivation to out-do what your dad did in his career?

A: Definitely. You know, we compete with a lot of different things, no matter what it is, so that’s definitely something that I want to compete with him about. He’ll tell you though, he’ll believe I’ll have a better career, I just got to go and do it myself.

Q: Are you familiar with his numbers?

A: Not exactly. I think he had like 10 touchdowns, maybe more. Hopefully I can get that this season.

Q: Has your dad shared any training camp stories with you?

A: Yeah. He said that when he was with the Saints, they had to go all the way to Wisconsin [for camp]. I was like, “Why would you all go to Wisconsin?” He was like, “You don’t ask, you just go.” I thought that was funny, but it’s nice, we have this beautiful facility to come to, and I can’t wait to see the fans out here and watch us work.

Q: Has he told you stories about the practices?

A: Yeah, he said it was rough. We got it easy now, that’s what he says. But I just mess with him. The game is different than then. They try to look out for us and our bodies. But yeah, he said that he used to have to get an I.V. between practices, all kind of stuff. It’s good that we don’t have to do that now.

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