(photo by Brian Murphy)
As members of the Washington Redskins trickled off the field after the team’s 33-31 loss to the Chicago Bears, a few media members began making jokes.
Because quarterback Robert Griffin III didn’t have the best night of his football-playing career against the Bears starters while fellow rookie Kirk Cousins had little trouble marching the offense up and down the field against Chicago’s reserves, the Heath Shuler-Frerotte jokes started to fly.
The comments were clearly made in jest and were forgotten as soon as we headed into the post-game locker room. That is, until former Bears quarterback Jim Miller foolishly suggested Cousins’ strong play could be the start of a quarterback controversy.
“Kirk Cousins, let’s put it this way,” he said. “I hate quarterback controversies, but after how he’s played so far, people are gonna say that.”
Look, I understand why some folks would get excited after witnessing Cousins complete 12 of 14 passes for 195 yards with three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter alone, but anyone who honestly thinks 15 minutes of preseason football should alter Washington’s long-term plans at quarterback shouldn’t be allowed out in public.
“Let me put it to rest — this is Robert’s team,” Cousins said. “I just don’t agree with that statement. I think that if I continue to play at a high level and continue to develop, improve and hopefully reach the level that I want to at some point, I would hope I get an opportunity somewhere, if not here. But, as of right now, absolutely not.”
Has it been a difficult adjustment — going from the unquestioned starter in college to fighting for a backup role in the pros?
“I don’t think it’s been too different,” he said. “I never felt like a big man on campus at Michigan State. If I was, I never felt like that. I always felt like I was striving and chasing after the next guy. To me, I just keep my head down and work every day. I always feel like I need to get better regardless of my performance in a game. I want to make sure I’m never patting myself on the back and I get right back to work, and that’s what I’m trying to do this week.”
How does a young player like Cousins stay mentally sharp in the event that something happens to Griffin and he needs to jump in and keep the ship from sinking?
“When I was at Michigan State I was in a similar situation as a backup to Brian Hoyer,” Cousins said. “I was one play away. I didn’t end up playing a lot that year, but knowing that you’re one play away, you have to prepare like you’re the starter. That’s going to be my same mentality this season. I expect to prepare like I’m the starter each and every day. My goal is to play so well in practice and in my opportunities in preseason games that the coaches here are excited about what they have in me and what they can develop in me. I want to make the coaches here very excited to have me on this team and I want to stay in this league a long time. It’s going to start with my preparation, day in and day out.”
With that out of the way, I asked the Michigan State standout how he was able to bounce back with such a solid outing against Chicago just one week after a so-so performance in Buffalo.
“I think it went well,” he said. “I think we had great production as an offense in the third and fourth quarter, but there are still things I’m looking at — and I’m going to be very critical of myself. I’d rather learn from what I didn’t do well as opposed to patting myself on the back. There are still plays that I think I can learn from and I think the game film is what’s most valuable to me.”
During the Bills game, Cousins threw to receiver Joshua Morgan early and often. He even admitted after the game that Morgan was a security blanket of sorts during his first NFL action. But in Chicago, Cousins spread the wealth — made evident by his three touchdown passes to three different receivers.
“I feel as though I’m going to throw to the open guy, and if the open guy changes from play to play, who gets the ball is going to change from play to play,” Cousins said. “If the open guy tends to be the same guy, then it’s going to the same guy. I don’t really have any favorites, I just go to where my reads take me. I the one game, it tended to be Josh several times. This past game it went to a variety of guys and it was good to see guys like Aldrick [Robinson] and [Dezmon] Briscoe make several plays.”
When head coach Mike Shanahan was asked about Cousins, he was quick to praise the fourth-round pick.
“Anytime you get an opportunity to show people what you can do, I think it is a big plus,” he said. “I think he did a good job and was very relaxed. He went through his progressions and made a number of big plays. You have to feel good about the job he did.”
And while no one other than Jim Miller believes there’s quarterback controversies brewing between Griffin and Cousins, it’s fair to wonder if the youngster can leapfrog Rex Grossman and become the team’s second-string quarterback.
“What I’m trying to do is evaluate everyone on our football team,” Shanahan said. “I know what Rex can do because I’ve watched Rex and he had a chance to play some games. I just didn’t want him to go back to Chicago where he played and started and took them to the Super Bowl, and only play him for one series. It just didn’t make sense to me. I want to get a look at Robert and give Kirk a chance to see what he can do against a good football team in a tough environment.”
So what does Cousins have to do to solidify the backup quarterback spot?
“We can use this at any position, but we are going to try to evaluate these guys and see what they can do on a day-to-day basis,” said Shanahan. “At the end, we will come up with the top 53 and hopefully not tell everybody how good someone is playing so they don’t come and take them off our practice squad.”