Going into the 2018 NFL season, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has some lofty expectations on his shoulders, and with good reason. He signed the highest-paying contract in NFL history back in March (and held that title for, like, six weeks), and has escaped from Washington, D.C. in search of a championship. He got his opportunity to answer questions from the Vikings media on Tuesday morning, so let’s read what he had to say, shall we?
Q: What has been your takeaway from the first padded practices?
A: It is a little different carrying pads for the first time in a while, but I thought it was a good first day and I think we’ll be a little sharper as the days go forward as we get used to that feeling again. Football is a physical game, so it’s important to practice that physicality and make sure you get enough reps at carrying your pads and being physical and securing those blocks and protections, because that’s how games are won and lost.
Q: Now that the pads are on, what is it like going up against this defense?
A: It’s a great defense, I can’t say enough good things about the guys. What stands out to me maybe is the continuity they have, having played in the scheme for so many years and having played together for so many years, in addition to the fact that they’re talented. It gives us [the offense] a great challenge. They’re also very sound. There aren’t a lot of players running wide open or blown coverages, where they’re giving you a touchdown or a big gain simply because of a mental error. They’re on their details, and the scheme is sound, so you have to earn every yard. That’s also the sign of a good defense.
Q: What do you like most about Stefon Diggs?
A: I could stand up here a while talking about Stefon and all his attributes. I think at the end of the day, what I most like is that he loves football and loves to come and work, because as a quarterback, it can be miserable if you’re working with someone who really is just out here to get a paycheck and leave. He wants to work, he’s excited to practice, he wants to compete, he loves the game, and he’s coachable. That whole part of his personality, is what makes up when I say it’s a great locker room and a great culture, it’s players like that carrying themselves in that way. When you add to it great natural hands, good short area quickness and agility, long speed, ability to track the ball in the air really well, he’s a seasoned veteran that understands the game and has played in big moments, you start to realize why there was a deal offered him of the size that it was.
Q: Stefon has been described as a guy who loves to work and wants to be here every day. What kinds of things does he do to show you that?
A: We were here until 9:15 last night doing install, and I’ve been a part of some locker rooms where by 9:00, some of your guys are sleeping in the back row and not taking notes, not paying attention, and they’re basically checked out, they’re texting or whatever. That’s just not him, that’s not these guys. So when at 9:00 at night as we’re installing the 100th play of the install, he’s still taking notes and he’s listening. If the coach has a point to make, he’s writing it down and he’s taking the coaching and translating it to the field the next day. That’s just one example, but it manifests itself over and over in each meeting, in each conversation at lunch, each practice session, each walk through. He’s out here when I motion him in in walk through to block the safety, there’s a sense of urgency. It matters to him, it’s not just a walk through to go through the motions. This matters, to make sure he blocks the safety so Dalvin [Cook] can gain some yards on the doctored run. That’s what you’re looking for.
Q: How much does it matter to you that guys like Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are going to be around for a while?
A: I love it. Continuity to me is very important and it’s not a luxury we have in the NFL these days. There is a lot of change year-in-year-out. I’ve come to accept that and understand that you can’t use that as an excuse. As the new players come in, including myself, we have to learn quickly and get caught up to speed and go and expect there to be more turnover as the year goes. But if we can develop continuity that’s just a bonus. It is an asset if you can have it. Now we’ve got to stay healthy, keep those guys on the field, but I think it can really make a difference if you can have it.
Q: Is there any particular route that jumps out to you that Stefon Diggs runs well?
A: If he had one route that jumped out, I don’t think he gets the contract that they’ve offered him. But I think it’s because he can run the entire route tree at a level that would warrant wanting him around. Whether it’s a 9-yard stop route, double move, three-step slant. Whether it’s a post I think everybody saw over there in the corner by the stands the first day the double move that he caught over the DB. The ability to track the ball, go get the football, play bigger than his frame. I think he can do just about everything and that’s what you want from a receiver. He doesn’t give you limitations.
Q: What does it mean for a quarterback to have two receivers that are not only willing but capable of playing on the outside and in the slot?
A: I mean it’s better than having no receivers that can do that. You want good players around you. Quarterbacks depend on everybody. It’s the ultimate team game. We have one-on-ones where the running backs have to block linebackers, tackles have to block defensive ends, receivers go against DBs. Quarterbacks never do that and it’s a reminder that we’re never one-on-one and for us it’s always a team game, we’re always dependent on the receiver getting open, the protection holding up, the running back doing his job. We never really have that one-on-one moment. You need players around you, like you said, to have two guys who are known in this league as being accomplished receivers who have been there done that, it helps.
Q: What is your relationship with Laquon Treadwell?
A: We are off to a great start, I think he had a good OTAs and in minicamp, I think he is having a great start to camp. I am excited for what he is going to grow into this year. He has been getting a lot of reps, a lot of looks, and I am really pleased with what he has done so far in a handful of practices.
Q: You guys have had a lot of success yesterday in the red zone, in your opinion what is the key to a good red zone offense?
A: I think it starts with being able to run the football. When it’s a condensed area it is really hard to run the football, but the good teams can have still had positive runs in the red zone, so we want to have rushing touchdowns and want to find productive runs down there. Also, it is important that we have a high completion percentage down there that we throw into the end zone, and that we use the back end line, put the ball up high where a guy like Kyle Rudolph can go make the catch. It is very tight windows, you have to have a great feel for the concepts that you can throw in anticipation because if you wait to see the route get open it will be too late. Whereas in the field you can make up for that because you have a little more space.
Q: What do you try to communicate with Kyle Rudolph to strengthen that communication between a center and a quarterback?
A: Well, you know our lockers are two down from each other. There are times during post practices or pre-practice where I will mention something that came up in meetings or that came up on the practice field and during the rookie practice days, we are able to stand behind the offense and talk a little bit. For the most part, you do what you can do and no more. We can’t get the snaps, there are certain things we can’t do and we have to make up that ground when he gets back.
Q: What do you think of Trevor Siemian so far?
A: I think he is doing a really good job. I think he is what you want in your quarterback room as far as a person the way he carries himself and the experience he brings. I believe he will be a great asset to the room, to me, and I think he will show that in the preseason and if he comes in in the regular season, I think he will do a great job.
Q: What has your relationship been with Mack Brown going back to Washington?
A: I have always felt that Mack Brown is a very talented running back with great athleticism. In Washington he did not get to play as much as maybe he or I would have liked but, when he did come in usually explosive things would happen. I remember in a four-minute offense against the Bears he took a run to the house that was probably a 60 or 70-yard run. He also came in a four-minute situation against the Raiders and had some explosive runs. So, when he has gotten his hands on the football even in preseason he has been very dynamic and so he will have another chance in this preseason to show what he can do and the tools are there to be a very good back in this league.
Q: Are there times where you are throwing in a window and wondering how he is able to come down with the coverage that Diggs sees?
A: He has just a natural ability to track the football with his eye. Attack the football with his hands. I saw, when he came down to Atlanta in early April, just throwing routes on air, he doesn’t shy away from the ball. He attacks it and goes and gets it. You don’t do that unless you have confident hands, unless you have natural hands. When you add defensive backs and you add traffic, those skills really come to the surface and show themselves. Have to continue to give him opportunities because if you are going to lead the league in that statistic, then it would make sense to give him the ball in tight windows or when it looks like he might be covered, you give him a chance to continue to show what he can do.
Q: Is anybody talking about the night practice and what to expect?
A: We talked about it a little bit yesterday, just how we are excited to turn practice into more of a game feel. I think it is important to get that before the first preseason game and even in addition to the preseason games. To have substitutions for the sidelines. To have a true flow of a game. The more we can simulate game day during practice, the better off practice becomes. So, I am looking forward, from that stand point. In addition to the atmosphere, fan attendance, their support, obviously that will be exciting under the lights in a brand new facility. The way it mirrors game day, I think is most important.
In addition to that, just want to say I am excited for the high school games here this fall, with Lakeville North, Prior Lake, Eagan and Farmington. I saw some of the players out here in their jerseys today. I tell people to this day, high school football is my favorite years ever playing football. Certainly, I wouldn’t trade living a dream here playing in the pros, but nothing gets more fun than high school varsity football under the lights. I will probably go into the facility on Friday nights and watch from the window to be able to see the games. I am looking forward to it just as much as everyone else. Can’t wait to see it unfold.