INDIANAPOLIS—Jay Gruden says he’s confident that Kirk Cousins’ upward trajectory will accelerate this offseason.
Why? Well, for starters, Cousins will be the Redskins’ top signal caller from Day 1 of the team’s offseason program.
“It’s huge,” Gruden said this week at the NFL Scouting Combine. “You could see his progression really sped up once he realized he was the guy. I think once he felt he put himself in that position, you could see his confidence grow and his performance get better and better. Now with an offseason in the same program and same system and [offensive coordinator Sean McVay and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh focused on him], he’ll get better and better, no question.”
That, of course, is a major departure from how things worked a year ago.
Last offseason, Robert Griffin III was named the starter in February, putting the focus squarely on No. 10, inside and outside of Redskins Park. Griffin received the first team reps during OTAs, minicamp, training camp and the first three weeks of the preseason. During that same time, Cousins competed with Colt McCoy for backup snaps.
“He did it [last season] without the luxury of being the No. 1 guy, ever, in this offense,” Gruden said of Cousins. “Training camp, OTAs, he’s always been second fiddle and hasn’t gotten the reps.”
“And then, when we announced him [as] the first-team quarterback after the third preseason game, [that] was really the first time we really catered the offense to him,” Gruden said. “And he took it and ran with it. He had his ups and downs, obviously, as most quarterbacks do. But you could see him progress and get better and better every week and that’s what you look for in any player. And we feel like with the whole offseason catered to him—OTAs, training camp, all that stuff—he’s got a big upside.”
Indeed, Cousins showed tremendous growth in the second half of 2015 as he gained more experience and confidence. After throwing eight interceptions in the first six games, Cousins had his “You like that” moment and finished the regular season by throwing 23 touchdowns and just three interceptions in the final 10 games as the Redskins captured the NFC East title.
Because of that second half surge, Cousins has put himself in position to become one of the NFL’s highest paid players, whether it’s on a lucrative long-term extension or the $20 million franchise tag.
Just as important, though, he’ll open the offseason as The Guy. Of course, he established himself as The Guy in November and December. But there's still something different about opening the offseason on the ground floor. The playbook, the meetings, the focus of the coaches, the practices, it’ll all be centered around one player. And that, Gruden said, might be this offseason’s biggest development for Cousins.
“There is no substitute for experience and repetition,” Gruden said. “The more he gets in the same system, the better he’s going to be. He’s already showing progress at a fast rate for a young quarterback in a system for the first time. The more he plays, the better he’s going to get in [different] situations—game management, in the pocket, his pocket skill, his pocket awareness, anticipation, touch. All those [of] things, getting to know his receivers, the tight ends, the blocking schemes, the running game—getting us in the right run at the right time. All [of] those things, he’s going to continue to get better at and make himself an all-around better player."
"And that," Gruden added, "comes with repetition.”
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