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Kirk Cousins is getting more comfortable throwing to Kyle Rudolph when he’s covered

Kirk Cousins knows he needs to be more than a .500 quarterback, but can he take that next step in what's becoming a critical year for himself and the Vikings?

Last May, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins compared Kyle Rudolph to a mattress. Come September, the connection was, relatively speaking, comatose.

This year, things could be different.

“I’ve done a better job this camp . . . of just trusting him more and throwing it to him even when he’s covered,” Cousins told reporters on Wednesday. “I think today there were probably two or three examples of him catching the ball with the defender draped over him or pretty close to him. He is just such a trustworthy target, so little things like that, building a chemistry with him, you would’ve loved to say I did that last year, but I don’t think I did enough.”

So what has changed?

“He just continues to show that when you throw it to him in those moments, he makes you right,” Cousins said. “He catches it. The play he made in the back of the end zone today was just really impressive. He kind of ran out of real estate and stopped, and just had to kind of post-up, just did a great job of walling the defender without committing a pass interference and then making a strong catch. He did a similar thing in a corner route in the front corner of the end zone at the end of practice and he had a couple others through 7-on-7s and other periods in previous days, so the more you do it the more you see it, the more you realize that’s a strength of his. I guess look back and regret a little bit not doing that more with him last year and then look forward to this year and giving him more opportunities to make it right. When really everything in you is telling you, ‘Hey, he’s really not open, but let’s give him a shot.’”

Cousins attributed the different not to trust but to reps.

“When you really think about it, it was, I think, 13 practices last spring and then you have training camp and then from there you really go back to scout team,” Cousins said. “It is hard to build that because the scout team guys aren’t really covering you, they are just kind of shadowing you. The number of full-speed practices you have to build that repertoire of understanding your players is not as much as you’d like to have. I think the more years together tends to develop that.”

That’s what the Vikings are hoping will happen this year, but it’s another example of why the expectations for the Vikings got out of whack in 2018. This year, the Vikings seem to be in far better position to contend for the playoffs; last year, they got close. This year, maybe they’ll pull it off.