Cousins’ development will be a crucial storyline once the Redskins enter training camp and then the season. They haven’t spent big in the offseason so one way they can build off last season is for players to develop, especially the one who plays the most important position.
“I don’t think there’s anything he can rest upon,” Gruden said at the owners meetings last month. “As a quarterback you have to consistently work on your fundamentals all the time: footwork, your drops, all that stuff, you can never stop working your fundamentals ever. And he’s going to continue to do that.”
It goes beyond the physical aspects, however. Cousins’ physical attributes didn’t change much last season, but coaches constantly pointed to his growth in the mental area -- his comfort level in the offense, making the proper reads, identifying coverages, etc.
“The one thing he’s going to continue to do vigilantly is study the game,” Gruden said, “study formations, study plays, study concepts versus different defenses, blitz patterns, how to pick them up at the line of scrimmage, the audibles, change of protections at the line.”
One reason the Redskins have long liked Cousins is his approach to the game. It helped him have a strong season in 2015; they hope it’s what leads to a lot more in the future. The Redskins have talent around him in tight end Jordan Reed, receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon and more.
Gruden knows for Cousins the key is building on 2015 and not being known as a one-year wonder. Cousins is also playing for another contract, having signed the franchise tag last month (barring a long-term deal being worked out by July 15). It's left Cousins in a familiar place: being questioned. How good is he really? Can he duplicate his 29-touchdown, 11-interception season? Had he been a former first-round pick, last season would probably be viewed by many as the start of something bigger. But he's a former fourth-rounder still shaking off initial perceptions (and too many interceptions). Cousins has battled such perceptions since he was considered a mid-level recruit out of high school only to end up starting at Michigan State. Four years ago not many would have predicted Cousins even being in the position he is now. Work remains, however.
“It’s one thing being a fourth-round pick and you come in as a backup and, OK, I did this,” Gruden said. “Now all of a sudden as you’re trying to establish yourself as one of the top-five guys in the NFL, now you have a little bit more pressure on yourself to perform and he knows that. He’s really working hard, he’s been down working his butt off with some people [in Florida] that I know. He’s going to get himself ready and he’s going to have to earn it.”