EAGAN, Minn. – Vikings center Garrett Bradbury talked Monday about the benefit to having three extra practices with Kirk Cousins, but it isn’t only the rookie starters that the quarterback is building rapport with.
Thirty-seven rookies and select veterans, including Cousins, reported to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center on Monday afternoon, with the remaining vets scheduled to report on Thursday. The Vikings first full training camp practice open to the public will be Friday.
It might seem uncommon to see an eight-year NFL veteran reporting early to camp, but Cousins is taking advantage of the opportunity.
“It’s good to get to know these guys,” Cousins told Twin Cities media members following the team’s walk-through session. “Unfortunately, the way the NFL works, you bring in so many players and you can only keep 53 [on the active roster].
“But many of them, even if they’re released, could be back on the practice squad, they could be back mid-season when you have injuries and you have some attrition, so 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.”
View photos of the Vikings during their first walk through and training camp practice of 2019 at TCO Performance Center.
Among the younger players that Cousins is working with this week are second-round draft pick Irv Smith, Jr., and four rookie receivers (seventh-round selections Bisi Johnson and Dillon Mitchell and UDFA signees Davion Davis and Alexander Hollins).
Cousins emphasized the benefit of using this time to hone in on the pass catchers’ individual skill sets and where each one might find the most success.
He pointed out that many of them were added to the team because of a “specific trait they can bring to the table,” and he wants to not only understand that trait but highlight it on the field.
“If a guy can roll, if he’s a 4.3 guy [in the 40-yard dash] and maybe, yeah, 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 give him a chance to get behind safeties and launch,” Cousins explained. “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 understand, ‘Hey, this route isn’t his sweet spot, so let’s talk about working elsewhere.’ That’s where I understand that personnel is really important,” he continued. “That’s certainly a point of emphasis, especially with these younger players.”
Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski was asked about the uniqueness of Cousins’ willingness to spend time working with players lower on the depth chart. He reminded that the three days of extra practice are valuable for all involved and shouldn’t be taken for granted.
“One of the things we talked about is those players don’t have to be here, they get to be here, and really, take the opportunity that we are getting and let’s apply it, because we aren’t just out here to put a check next to a box,” Stefanski said. “We are trying to get better.”
The advice doesn’t apply just to the players, either.
“I think our coaches are outstanding teachers,” Stefanski said. “Watching these last few days, listening to our coaches teach, getting all this information across to our players, I think it is so impressive to watch these guys work together.”
Does Cousins, then, act as an additional coach during this phase of camp?
While he does bring plenty of experience to the huddle, Cousins said he mainly tries to leave the coaching to, well, the coaches.
“I’m always in a learning mode; I don’t know that it’s a teaching mode,” Cousins said. “I’m going to communicate, encourage a guy when I feel he’s doing something right and coach him when 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. So 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.”
Minnesota’s offensive coaching staff certainly does have a different look behind Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski, who is entering his first full season in the role. The Vikings also added Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak, offensive line coach Rick Dennison, tight ends coach Brian Pariani and quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak. Drew Petzing was elevated to wide receivers coach after serving as assistant quarterbacks coach last season.
Cousins said it isn’t difficult to work with multiple teachers, however, because they’re all speaking the same language.
“Well, you listen to all of them. They’re all on the same page. They have staff meetings, and it’s one voice. You know, I’m not concerned about it being multiple messages,” Cousins said. “I have an abundance of resources when it comes to picking [Head] Coach Zimmer’s brain during the walk-through or talking to Kevin, talking to Klint, Gary. And even, as a quarterback you want to be very connected with the offensive line coach, so Coach Dennison and AJ (assistant offensive line coach Andrew Janocko), so there’s no end. And Coach 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?’
Added Cousins: “We’ve got a lot of staff, and that’s a great thing. It’s great to have that much support and that many good football minds contributing to our plan.”