ASHBURN, Va. — Kirk Cousins learned his fate in a Monday morning meeting with Redskins coach Jay Gruden. He will be the starting quarterback for the Redskins in 2015.
Later, his teammates learned the news, too. And a player who once wondered if he’d have to move on to get a legitimate chance to compete for a starting role in the NFL now has one.
Kirk Cousins’ startling victory in the Redskins’ QB Competition was just as startling, considering the competition was never publicly known.
“I certainly had some nights where I wasn’t sleeping well. My wife would tell you I was a bear to deal with,” Cousins said. “It was a tough experience. Certainly it made me stronger going forward. I look back now and feel like that experience will make me a better football player in the future.”
It was a remarkable change in fortune for a player who had an opportunity last fall to take over as Washington’s starter when Robert Griffin III suffered a dislocated ankle in Week 2. But after a solid start, Cousins’ season fell apart. He was benched in the first half of an Oct. 19 game against the Tennessee Titans and never took another snap.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed that [Cousins] had an opportunity to take it and he had some interception issues and all that stuff,” Washington coach Jay Gruden said. “But we feel good about him moving forward. When you get in the second year in a system there’s a comfort level. Certain quarterbacks take a giant leap, certain quarterbacks don’t. But I feel like Kirk has taken a giant leap so far and we feel great about the progress that he’s made.”
Cousins looked ragged early in training camp practices in Richmond. But it’s hard to ignore that he is now 40-for-53 in three preseason games for 435 yards, two passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown. He did throw an interception early in Saturday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens.
“I think Kirk has always been assertive,” Redskins left tackle Trent Williams said. “I think any time he’s gotten into a game, he’s always been in full command of the huddle. He’s a very detailed guy — just all the things you would want in a quarterback.”
The Redskins had planned to start Griffin against Baltimore before an independent neurologist rescinded a verbal decision to clear him for full contact last Friday. But Gruden admitted that the decision had already been made to play Cousins with the starters early in Saturday’s game.
“We were going to bring Kirk in early in that football game and give him a chance with the ones,” Gruden said, “That was our plan and go from there.”
That was a startling admission. For six months, Gruden and the Redskins said that Griffin was their starting quarterback – with the caveat that he could play himself out of the job. He had to keep it. But there was never a public sense that there was a real competition. Apparently, there was one.
“I didn’t want to come to every press conference and get asked who’s starting,” Gruden said. “We put it to bed. We named Robert the starter, gave him the first reps with the guys. But when you do that you still have to compete. There’s still competition. We just wanted to put all the distraction aside, play football.”
They’ve done that to a point. But Griffin’s status remains in doubt. Gruden insisted he will remain with the team. There are obvious reasons for the Redskins to move on quickly. They owe him $16.2 million if he’s on the roster next March and that money is guaranteed if Griffin is injured and can’t pass a season-ending physical. But Gruden insisted that Griffin will stay with the team.
In 2014, Cousins threw 10 touchdown passes in his six games – five of them starts. But he was intercepted nine times and fumbled twice. His inability to shake off those bad plays left the coaching staff frustrated and, in part, led to his benching during that Titans game.
That’s why Saturday’s game against Baltimore was so important. Cousins put aside an early interception on a bubble screen, a mistake that in the past might have led to an implosion. Instead, he led the Redskins to two touchdowns later in the first half of a 31-13 victory.
“[Cousins is] just a guy who’s gotten better every year. Like all of our quarterbacks, they take practice very seriously,” linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “When Kirk has been the scout team quarterback in the past he treats that like he’s preparing for the game. And that’s not only made us better defensively but made him better as well.”
Gruden said that Cousins is his starter for 2015 and did not back down from that statement. He called it a gradual decision-making process that took into account all of training camp, preseason games, OTAs and minicamp – even if Cousins didn’t realize how open the competition was at the time.
“You can look at it both ways. Number one, you’re always competing, you’re always fighting for your spot, you’re always trying to prove yourself,” Cousins said. “I never felt like I’ve been comfortable in any specific role. That’s what I’ve learned since I’ve been drafted. On the flip side, I did feel like the roles were defined and I was competing for the backup role and that was where I was at.”
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