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Cousins Pick Paying 'Unexpected' Dividends

Posted Dec 12, 2012

Criticism abounded after the Redskins spent the 102nd overall draft pick on another QB. Seven months later, that choice might be the key to the playoffs.

On 12/12/12, Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman offers a look back at the Redskins' No. 12, quarterback Kirk Cousins, and how he went from controversial draft pick to key member of the Redskins' roster. A snapshot perspective:


April 28, 2012: Welcome To Washington

When the Washington Redskins selected Kirk Cousins in the fourth round (102nd overall) of April's NFL Draft, criticism abounded from all corners of the media.

It had nothing to do with Cousins's talent and leadership on the field, or his squeaky clean character off of it. Rather, NFL pundits criticized the creation of what was sure to be an awkward quarterback room, with one rookie destined to start from Day 1, and other destined for preseason and mop-up duty in blowouts.

Even Cousins felt awkward in his initial conference call, confirming that he had met with the Redskins but unsure what to make of the logjam at quarterback.

"I think it is a little surprising," he said carefully. "I was trying to forecast which teams would be looking at a quarterback, and didn’t see the Redskins thinking along those lines."

Neither did members of the national media.

Former NFL executive Michael Lombardi speculated on the NFL Network that the selection must be to collect trade-fodder, because there was no other obvious solution.

"I can’t see how it’s going to work," he said. "Let's just say [Griffin III] is what we think he is: Kirk Cousins never gets on the field. How do they recoup this pick? In four years, he’s a free agent, so what’s the value of putting all this time, money and effort into coaching him if you can’t get something back?"

Head coach Mike Shanahan addressed the media following the draft and explained his thought process behind the controversial move.

“In the fourth round, you’re trying to find people that can make your football team. We have a little bit more depth than we did in the past, and you got to do what you can do to give your team the best chance to have players and depth at each position," he said. "I got a chance to be around Kirk, and I got a chance to know him at the Senior Bowl. He’s a quality young man and he’ll come in here and have a chance to show us what we can do."

Cousins agreed that no matter what happened with his role on the team, he would have a positive mindset and give his full effort.

"My job is to go in at rookie minicamp, pick up the playbook and learn," he said. "In my career I’m going to work as hard as I can. It’s a lot of things that I can’t control like where I get drafted. I’m just excited to be a part of the NFL."


May 6, 2012: Competition Over Before It Began

To no one's surprise, Robert Griffin III was given the starting job for the Redskins in 2012. 

The only newsworthy item there was the timing of the announcement, as head coach Mike Shanahan named him starter after the first practice of rookie mini-camp.

"He's the starter, period," Shanahan declared.

Cousins had similarly few words when describing his teammate, roommate and fellow rookie quarterback.

"We all know the situation I'm in," he said with a shrug. "Robert is a likeable guy. There's not a whole lot there not to like."

The Redskins' coaching staff arranged to have the two quarterbacks spend as much time together as possible, learning the playbook at the facilities and studying together back at the hotel.

If there were any traces of bewilderment over draft weekend, they had long since evaporated.  Griffin III would be the starter and Cousins would have a fair opportunity to be his primary backup in 2012 and beyond.

"The best part is I’m getting to live my dream," Cousins said with a grin. "This is something I've wanted to do for a long time, and I feel very fortunate to be able to be here and to pursue a dream of being a quarterback in the NFL."


Aug. 18, 2012: Cousins Cruises Off The Bench

In his first preseason game against the Buffalo Bills, Cousins completed only nine-of-22 passes for 74 yards and an interception.

The following week in Chicago, he completed twice as many passes for nearly four times as many yards, throwing three touchdowns and no interceptions, nearly leading his team back from a huge deficit.

After the game, Cousins talked about coming off the bench with a fresh perspective and seizing the opportunity to compete.

"If we were going to go down, I wanted to go down swinging," he said, referring to the 10-20 halftime score. "At halftime I said, 'We need to play with some passion and some fire, we can't afford to be flat.'"

Among his 18 completions in the second half, Cousins completed eight passes over 14 yards, including touchdown passes of 49 and 20 yards.

Cousins deflected praise to his receivers after the game, saying, "I'm just throwing to the open guy. These guys are out there making plays. I'm learning every play."

Head coach Mike Shanahan praised the second-string unit, starting with his quarterback.

"[Cousins] played extremely well, played with a lot of poise," he said. "It shows you character.  To come back with two minutes and do the things they did...it just shows you we have some young guys that work extremely hard with some talent."


Oct. 7, 2012: Comeback Opportunity Snatched Away

After winning the training camp battle for the primary backup quarterback spot, Cousins carried a clipboard for the first four weeks, active but stationary on the sideline.

It was not until Week 5 game against the Atlanta Falcons that Cousins got his first regular season opportunity.

Griffin III was knocked out with nine minutes remaining in the third quarter, and was later diagnosed with a concussion by team doctors.  He was ruled out for the remainder of the game, opening the door for Cousins.

On his second NFL drive, the man that NFL pundits saw no value for on draft day made the highlight reels, hitting Santana Moss in stride for a 77-yard touchdown to take the 17-14 lead.

The Redskins defense yielded another 10 points, but Cousins kept the offense competitive and gave the Redskins a chance to tie the game with two minutes remaining. 

Instead, his comeback was cut short by a pair of interceptions, notching the Redskins' third loss of the season.

Cousins admitted after the game that he tried to do too much to will his team back to victory.

Fred Davis was who I was trying to throw to on the first [interception], and I just tried to pull him away from his defender," he explained.  "I needed to come to the running back over the middle--that was the proper throw, and didn’t do it obviously.

"The second one, I was just trying to do too much. I was trying to get it all back on one play."

Cousins again gave credit to his teammates for making palys around him, and said the in-game action provided valuable experience moving forward.

"It wasn’t the result that I wanted in the end, but there were good things I can take away from it," he said. "There are other things I need to learn from and I will certainly do that."


Dec. 9, 2012: (Early) Potential Realized

The value of a backup quarterback is rarely determined by how well he can compete under ideal circumstances.  Instead, a backup quarterback must find ways to triumph during moments of chaos.

This was never truer than during last Sunday's game against the the Baltimore Ravens, when Griffin III was felled with three minutes remaining and an eight-point deficit on the scoreboard.

With an injury timeout, Cousins had only moments to grab his helmet, throw a few warmup tosses and take the field. 

On 3rd-and-6, he threw an incomplete pass to Pierre Garcon, who was the beneficiary of a pass interference call on the defense.  Griffin III returned to the game for four plays, driving the ball down to the Baltimore 16-yard line before leaving the game for good.

Cousins took over at the 26-yard line with 2nd-and-20 and only 45 seconds remaining in the game.

Taking the snap out of the shotgun, Cousins found Leonard Hankerson for a 15-yard reception over the middle. Tackled at the 11-yard line with 36 seconds remaining, the Redskins burned their final timeout.

Again taking the snap out of the shotgun, Cousins pump-faked the coverage toward the middle of the field and then dropped it into Garcon's arms in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown.

Cousins completed the comeback on the next play, taking a designed quarterback draw up the middle.  The Redskins would go on to win on overtime field goal.

With the victory, the Redskins improved to 7-6, continuing a four-game winning streak, the team's longest since 2008. 

The win retained second place in the NFC East, one game behind the division-leading Giants.  With each game growing in importance, the Cousins-led comeback victory likely saved the Redskins' hunt for the playoffs.

"You try not to focus on those external factors and just focus on your job," Cousins said after the game. "My job was to run the play call and go through my progressions, so I did that.

"Just be somewhat of a robot--that's what I'm coached to do. This is my opportunity and I have to be ready. Fortunately, today it worked out in my favor."

Along the way, Cousins has also earned the full confidence of his head coach, who said he earned the job through each step of his development.

"Being a backup quarterback, you’re one play away from being in the game," Shanahan said.  "You have to prepare yourself that the quarterback could go down on the first play and you have to step in and get the job done. He’s done that each and every week."


Next Opportunity: Yet Unknown

Under head coach Mike Shanahan, the starting quarterback of the Redskins only addresses the media on Wednesdays during the season.

Today, Robert Griffin III gave his customary media address, but was joined by Kirk Cousins for the first time, as Griffin III's status is unknown for Sunday against the Browns.

The media spotlight may be brighter on No. 12 this week, but Cousins said his preparation is the same as always: be ready to go when the time is right.

"I view it as an opportunity, just as I viewed preseason games as opportunities," he said. "Every practice is an opportunity to show what I can do every day."

Cousins, Griffin III and Shanahan each declined to answer who would start on Sunday, but if called upon, Cousins will be better prepared based on his culmination of experience.

"I’m trying to perform at a high level and show, whether it’s these coaches or the rest of the NFL, what I’m capable of," Cousins said. "I’m not worried about it. If I’m good enough, I’ll be able to show people over time what I can do and if I’m not, I won’t. I have to be able to accept that."

While NFL starters never know when the next snap will be their last, Cousins never knows when his next snap will happen.  For right now at least, that is OK with him.

"I would have loved to have been the 10th overall pick and have two or three seasons to see what I can and can’t do. But that’s not the luxury I have," he said.  "There is a heightened sense of urgency to say that when I do get my opportunities. I need to make the most of them."

Regardless of how this season ends for the Redskins, Shanahan is pleased with the contributions Cousins is making to the overall success of the team.

"The backup quarterback is one of the toughest positions in the game because you have to be ready to play and you have to prepare yourself," Shanahan said.  "If you don’t, you are going to get embarrassed pretty quickly.

"You always grow anytime you practice, and obviously with Kirk there is no difference. To be able to go through those game plans and be prepared and be ready to play…there is a lot of work involved. Kirk has done a great job and that is why he played the way he played during the game."

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