Cousins ‘in a good place’ with a 1-year deal

The Star Democrat - - SPORTS - KIRTHMON F. DOZIER/TNS

RICH­MOND, VA. (WPNS) — For all the words that were writ­ten, squawked and de­bated about whether the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins would or should sign quar­ter­back Kirk Cousins to a long-term con­tract, Cousins made plain Thurs­day that he’s con­tent with­out the se­cu­rity.

Any per­ceived pres­sure that comes with play­ing un­der the NFL’s fran­chise tag — a oneyear deal worth a hand­some an­nual salary but no guar­an­tees be­yond that — is some­thing he wel­comes, Cousins went so far as say­ing, re­vers­ing the pre­vail­ing nar­ra­tive.

“In the off­sea­son, the ball is in the team’s court,” Cousins told re­porters on the open­ing day of Red­skins train­ing camp. “But from Week 1 to Week 17, the ball’s in my court, and I’ve got to go play foot­ball well, so that’s where my fo­cus is.”

Earn­ing his op­por­tu­ni­ties on the foot­ball field, Cousins said, is some­thing he has grown ac­cus­tomed to since high school, when he had no schol­ar­ship of­fers un­til late in his se­nior sea­son.

“That has been my story all along, and I’ve just learned that’s the way life is,” Cousins said, adding that he was in “a good place” — a “healthy place for me to be. It has worked in the past, and hope­fully it can work go­ing for­ward.”

Af­ter set­ting back-to-back fran- chise records for pass­ing yards, Cousins, 28, launches into train­ing camp with a rad­i­cally re­made re­ceiv­ing corps — with off­sea­son ac­qui­si­tion Ter­relle Pryor and se­cond-year player Josh Doct­son pen­ciled in as suc­ces­sors to DeSean Jack­son and Pierre Gar­con, who de­parted via free agency.

He’ll also have a new of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor in Matt Ca­vanaugh — the Red­skins’ third in the last five years — and a new play-caller in Coach Jay Gru­den, which leaves Cousins with plenty to

fo­cus on in the six weeks be­tween now and the Sept. 10 sea­son-opener against the Philadel­phia Ea­gles.

There was a sparse, al­most si­lent crowd on hand Thurs­day morn­ing for the first ses­sion of train­ing camp — a walk-through in shirts and shorts that didn’t come close to cap­tur­ing the full speed or power of the 90 play­ers of a ros­ter that must be culled to 53 af­ter the fourth and fi­nal pre­sea­son game.

Cousins sounded no alarms about the fact that tight end Jor­dan Reed isn’t on hand for camp be­cause of a toe in­jury, not­ing that the sea­son-opener is what truly counts.

Later Thurs­day, Gru­den said that the team was pro­ceed­ing cau­tiously with Reed, given his in­jury his­tory, and that he could be side­lined a week. As a re­sult, the team waived line­backer Hous­ton Bates, who is re­cov­er­ing from ACL surgery and failed a phys­i­cal, in or­der to add for­mer Iowa State tight end E.J. Bibbs, who ap­peared in seven games for Cleve­land in 2015.

As for his own per­for­mance, Cousins said that his fo­cus head­ing into his third sea­son as a starter is to im­prove at “sit­u­a­tional aware­ness,” know­ing when in a game to take risks, for ex­am­ple, and when not to.

“If I can do that, the fi­nal re-

sult will be an im­proved player, and I think that’s the next step in my de­vel­op­ment,” Cousins said.

The al­lu­sion was to the fi­nal in­ter­cep­tion he threw in last year’s sea­son-fi­nale against the New York Giants, seal­ing a de­feat that kept Wash­ing­ton out of the play­offs.

That said, Cousins said he didn’t think that play­ing un­der the fran­chise tag in 2016 had any bear­ing on his per­for­mance. He threw for a team-record 4,917 yards and 25 touch­downs to 12 in­ter­cep­tions, but it was the last in­ter­cep­tion that un­der­scored Cousins’ room for im­prove­ment.

As for the team’s 8-7-1 fin­ish, Cousins found a way to turn that into a pos­i­tive, as well.

“I think what it does is it gives us an edge, be­cause we stay hum­ble and hun­gry be­cause we left the sea­son re­al­iz­ing we do have a long way to go,” Cousins said. “We do need to im­prove if we want to go in the di­rec­tion that we all be­lieve we can. In that sense, we’ll take the sil­ver lin­ing that no­body is con­tent, no­body is en­ti­tled, no­body feels like we can rest on what we’ve done in the past. We do feel like a lot rides on this sea­son up ahead. Hope­fully, that gives us a sense of ur­gency all through train­ing camp to be re­ally fo­cused and, as a re­sult, gets the best out of every one of us.”

The quar­ter­back was all­busi­ness when he trot­ted out for Thurs­day’s morn­ing ses­sion. Even though plays were ex­e­cuted at half-speed, if that, the 6-4 Pryor jumped out as fluid, grace­ful and sure­handed.

And af­ter­ward, sev­eral Red­skins dis­missed any no­tion that Cousins’ de­ci­sion not to sign a long-term deal or sub­mit a counter-of­fer had spoiled chem­istry or made them ques­tion his com­mit­ment.

“Kirk is a great guy,” tight end Ver­non Davis said, adding that he makes a point to stay out of other play­ers’ con­tract sit­u­a­tions. “He comes to work every day. He’s mak­ing sure that he’s a leader, do­ing ev­ery­thing he pos­si­bly can to make sure he’s right by the team.”

The Detroit Lions’ Ar­monty Bryant sacks Wash­ing­ton Red­skins quar­ter­back Kirk Cousins on Oc­to­ber 23, 2016, at Ford Field in Detroit.

KEN­NETH K. LAM/TNS

Bal­ti­more Ravens’ Ter­rell Suggs sacks Wash­ing­ton Red­skins quar­ter­back Kirk Cousins to force fourth down in the se­cond quar­ter on Sun­day, Oct. 9, 2016 in Bal­ti­more.

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