ASHBURN, Va. -- The motivational messages are stashed deep in his notebook or taped somewhere in his truck. There are just enough reminders to keep Washington Redskins quarterback Colt McCoy pushing forward.
"The hardest part of this job," he said, "is the amount of time and effort and energy preparing yourself for something that may not happen."
Kirk Cousins has made 30 consecutive starts, which means McCoy has been Cousins' backup for 30 consecutive games. McCoy played against the Dallas Cowboys in the 2015 season finale because the Redskins had already clinched the NFC East.
But McCoy, a third-round pick by the Cleveland Browns in 2010 with 25 career starts, has to operate under a you-never-know philosophy. He has to work long hours -- just in case.
"That gives me peace of mind," he said.
This is what it takes for him to stay sharp as a backup on a typical Wednesday during the season:
6 a.m.: Arrive at facility. McCoy starts earlier than most so he can spend more time with his daughters at the end of the day. He begins with a protein-filled breakfast, usually six to eight eggs and a bowl of oatmeal.
"I'm a big breakfast guy," he said.
He's a big film guy too. Within 30 minutes, McCoy sits by himself in the quarterback room, watching film for at least an hour, taking notes on the opponent's coverages and scheme. He'll watch the corners, determining which one is best. He'll watch the safeties and look for ways the secondary might tip off the coverage. He wants to find "tells" by the defense, so when the coaches go over it later, he already has an understanding.
"The more I get myself familiar with who we're playing, the more comfortable as the week goes by that I'll feel," he said.
At some point in the morning, McCoy will look at the torn-off pieces of paper. He'll sometimes recite the sayings throughout the day. His most popular: "Manage my expectations" and "Don't look back."
"Unfortunately, a lot of people have written you off, or don't think you can play," he said. "I don't feel that way, so I manage my expectations. I really believe I can do this. I know I can. If I keep dwelling on the past and worry what people think about me, it sets me back."
8:15-10:45 a.m.: Meetings. All three quarterbacks sit in a room as offensive coordinator Sean McVay and position coach Matt Cavanaugh lead a meeting. Most of their interaction is with Cousins because he's playing -- they'll let him know how they want a certain play run, for example. McCoy said he mostly listens. The time when he interacts more with Cousins is during games, when he can watch the backside of a play, for example, and let Cousins know if there's something to look for later.
McVay gets into the details of a play -- the philosophy and execution. Cavanaugh discusses the mechanics of the position. McCoy, meanwhile, said he'll take lots of notes in meetings during the day: eight pages, front and back, if he is familiar with an opponent, and 10 pages if he isn't.
10:50-11:15 a.m.: Walk-through. The Redskins go over what they just learned in meetings by walking through the plays. McCoy watches during this time, taking mental reps and visualizing his actions on a play.
11:15 a.m.-12:45 p.m.: Eat lunch, work out. Because McCoy eats breakfast so early, the first thing he does after the walk-through is head to the cafeteria, where he typically sits with the offensive linemen. McCoy eats fish every day; his favorite by Redskins executive chef Jon Mathieson is sea bass.
"It's really light, almost like sushi," McCoy said.
After that, it's time to work out. McCoy has developed a routine, thanks to offseason work with California-based coach Tom House, to help his right shoulder, which he injured in college. Two years ago, House developed a daily 20-minute shoulder exercise routine for McCoy with resistance bands, medicine balls, dumbbells, etc.
"He has significantly helped me, as far as throwing the ball," McCoy said.
Then, because McCoy lifts on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, he works on his cardio on Wednesdays. That means running on the treadmill for 15 to 20 minutes, listening to country music -- George Strait or Zac Brown Band, most likely -- or classic rock. On days when he lifts, he'll also run sprint intervals in the pool.
"Having glorified walk-throughs is a killer for me," he said. "And guys who are playing are scaled back; their bodies are banged up. My body feels fresh, so I have to push myself in the weight room [on other days]."
1-2:45 p.m.: Practice. After individual and group drills, McCoy is mostly a spectator as Cousins gets all the first-team reps. McCoy will run the scout team, which means four different series of five plays each, running another team's offense. That's his full-team work for the day.
When Cousins works with the starters, McCoy stands behind the offense and visualizes what he would do.
"In between periods, I'll pull off a couple guys and throw routes that are premier ones for us that week," he said. "Maybe they stand there for me and I just throw it."
After practice, players head to the locker room, which is then open to the media until 3:30 p.m. As McCoy heads in, he'll down a protein shake.
3:45-5 p.m.: Meetings. Cavanaugh, and sometimes McVay, will go over practice with the quarterbacks. McCoy calls Cavanaugh and McVay two of the "most detailed coaches I've been around," so there's a lot more note-taking.
5-6:30 p.m.: Film room. McCoy returns to where his work began, sitting alone and watching film. His goal is to stay ahead by focusing on what the coaches will go over the next day. On a typical Wednesday, that means watching the opponent's third downs to get ready for Thursday's practice. On a Thursday, he'll watch a lot of red zone.
It's also more time to reflect, another chance to remind himself of other success stories. He has to make sure he doesn't become his own biggest opponent.
"I have a list of people like me who have come out on top," McCoy said. "I'm not comparing myself to these guys, but you look at a story like Steve Young, who didn't get his start in San Francisco until he was 31, and now he's in the Hall of Fame. There's story after story you can go to. Those are things I have to remind myself."
6:30-6:45 p.m.: Head home. On his 12-minute drive home, if he isn't talking on the phone, McCoy will listen once more to George Strait or Zac Brown.
"I turn it up really loud too," he said.
9:30 p.m.: Final work. McCoy keeps his family time sacred, wanting to spend it with his daughters: Sloan, who is 20 months old, and newborn Brooke. But before McCoy goes to bed, he practices play calls. If he doesn't, he could stumble over the verbiage in a game.
"I'm a visual learner," he said. "So I talk to myself, to the mirror or my wife."
Bedtime is no later than 10 p.m., and McCoy dreams of getting another chance at some point. He'll resume a similar schedule the next day, helping Cousins get ready and preparing in case something goes wrong.
"It's really frustrating," McCoy said. "But until you have that opportunity again -- it may never happen, but it might. If it does, then I know mentally I'm in the right place. You get this label, and I'm not the same guy I was. I'm healthy now. I have games under my belt. I'm on a great team. All those things are different. I have to keep that in the back of my head and keep working."