EAGAN, Minn. -- At the end of the Minnesota Vikings spring offseason program, Kirk Cousins equated the amount of concepts had to process in a new offense to "drinking through a firehose." Information overload was expected when the quarterback arrived in the Twin Cities in April, prompting him to devise a plan to go over the elements of the playbook he didn't grasp initially during his time off.
But not everything has taken multiple attempts to get right. One part of Cousins' transition from Washington to his new team came along much sooner than he anticipated.
"My question coming in was, how long do I sit back and watch and listen and learn before I then start to act like a starting quarterback," Cousins said. "That I was trying to communicate in the spring was I was surprised by how much my teammates gave me that license to lead quickly. I thought they were going to want to have me prove myself a little bit longer than maybe I had to. They were very supportive and said, 'No, man. It's your show. Let's go.' When I say I was welcomed by the team, I was accepted, I was given permission to lead, that's where it didn't take as long as maybe I thought it would have. I think that was a pleasant surprise."
Along with Minnesota's three other quarterbacks, Cousins reported to camp three days ahead of when the rest of the veterans are slated to arrive, the same day rookies and injured players also checked in. The early reps before the entire team takes the field on Saturday have allowed the seventh-year quarterback to establish a rhythm. Now, the things that once felt foreign are familiar.
"I'm not thinking as much as I'm able to just react and play," he said. "The terminology is starting to become my first language as opposed to my second language. I don't find myself reverting back to how we used to call things in the past at other places I was at. I've gotten to know teammates so much better. I know who they are as people, their personalities, what they do well as players and again, with so much left to go in the preseason that will only improve, but I do think I've come a long way in those areas."
Just as Cousins navigates through a series of "firsts," Minnesota is also in somewhat new territory in training camp. For the first time in years, the question of quarterback stability isn't creeping in the background. Last year, the Vikings looked to Sam Bradford as their leader (until his untimely injury in Week 1), but the question of if/when Teddy Bridgewater would be able to take his job back was often raised.
Cousins has been part of quarterback competitions throughout his career and faced tricky circumstances at the position. Not having to wonder whether he's "the guy" is appreciated. The vote of confidence he's received from his teammates, coaches and this franchise allowed him to quickly become Minnesota's leader.
"I think internal competition is healthy. Certainly it can be bring out the best in you but to an extent," Cousins said. "At some point you have to be given a license to lead to lead, you have to be given permission to take charge and when you're still having internal competition it's hard to do that. And so I've been in those situations in the past, going back to college, where I didn't know if I would start and so it was hard to really assert my personality in the locker room because I didn't want to step on the toes of the other people. And so that's something when you know your role and it's been defined you can then lead from a place of greater comfort and from that platform and I think that helps the overall dynamic."
The Vikings' three-year, $84 million investment in Cousins may change the outside perception surrounding the quarterback, but it doesn't change the buy-in required to lead a group of players. That, Cousins said, is something money can't buy.
"It certainly gives an indication, but the amount of money you make doesn't give people a desire to suddenly follow you," he said. "I played on a team where I made league minimum and was the starting quarterback, too. You'd better believe that I've got to command and have a presence about me that guys want to follow, regardless of what my contract says. If you're fake, your contract is not going to help you. You've got to be the real deal no matter what."