Red­skins QB coach tasked with Cousins im­prove­ment

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY NORA PRINCIOTTI

Af­ter 21 starts at quar­ter­back over three years at San Diego State, Kevin O’Con­nell had dis­tin­guished him­self in a num­ber of ar­eas. He was 10th in Aztec ca­reer his­tory in pass­ing yardage, eighth in pass­ing at­tempts, sev­enth in com­ple­tions and fifth in to­tal of­fense with 5,530 yards.

There was one area in which his suc­cess was su­perla­tive: O’Con­nell’s 906 rush­ing yards — that’s 43 per start — were the most in school his­tory by a quar­ter­back.

Fast for­ward to to­day and O’Con­nell, 32, is in his first year as the Red­skins quar­ter­backs coach. His task is to take Kirk Cousins, who threw for nearly 5,000 yards last sea­son, and make him bet­ter. A bit of ex­tra mo­bil­ity may be just the thing.

“It’s all sit­u­a­tional,” O’Con­nell said. “Un­der­stand­ing, maybe it’s in the red zone, maybe it’s third down when a de­fense drops eight into cov­er­age, you know you’ve got a lit­tle bit ex­tra time to hold it and try to see if Jami­son or Jor­dan can work their way open, maybe, ver­sus dou­ble cov­er­age, and then if all else fails he’s plenty ath­letic enough to go steal us a first down or two.”

O’Con­nell, who was drafted by the Pa­tri­ots in 2008 and was a jour­ney­man backup in the league un­til 2012, has been a quar­ter­backs coach once be­fore, with the Browns in 2015. He was also on the

49ers of­fen­sive staff for the 2016 sea­son. In nei­ther of those sit­u­a­tions was he re­spon­si­ble for de­vel­op­ing a quar­ter­back of Cousins’ cal­iber.

Cousins, en­ter­ing his third year as a starter, wants to add to his game with­out, as he put it, try­ing to “rein­vent the wheel.” One way Cousins wants to do this is by us­ing his legs a bit more.

“Are there ways to play off-sched­ule to make some scram­ble plays hap­pen?’ I don’t know that I will ever be Michael Vick or Aaron Rodgers, but can we do that a lit­tle more? Are there times I can use my legs? I think there is more ath­leti­cism there than I give my­self credit for,” Cousins said.

“Can I run for a first down here or there more of­ten? There are lit­tle things. I don’t think I am go­ing to try and turn into a zone-read quar­ter­back but there are times in the game where you say, hey, maybe you could em­pha­size this more, that more.”

Cousins, who ran for 96 yards and four touch­downs last sea­son, ex­per­i­mented with his legs in off­sea­son prac­tices and mini­camp, but scram­bling in a non-con­tact jer­sey has lim­ited ben­e­fit. On one play dur­ing mini­camp, where Cousins scram­bled for a touch­down dur­ing 11-on-11 drills, safety D.J. Swearinger hollered that he was go­ing to get his “block knocked off” if he tried that against a de­fense al­lowed to hit.

That’s cer­tainly not what O’Con­nell has in mind. He was quick to point out that the Red­skins only carry three quar­ter­backs, mak­ing in­juries es­pe­cially costly. He also pointed out games against Chicago and Detroit last sea­son when Cousins used his legs suc­cess­fully and said that he has “clearly demon­strated that he’s got the abil­ity to steal you some yards.”

“We’ll pick our spots,” O’Con­nell said. “Three-man rush, in the red zone, every once in a while there’s go­ing to be a third down where they take off and they’re on the side­line and they’ve got to get us that ex­tra yard or two but other than that we’d like those guys to be slid­ing when they can and pro­tect­ing them­selves for sure.”

Most of the Red­skins coach­ing changes this off­sea­son came on the de­fen­sive side of the ball, but O’Con­nell moved into the quar­ter­backs coach job af­ter Matt Ca­vanaugh was bumped up to re­place Sean McVay as of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor.

O’Con­nell is only four years older than Cousins who, like back­ups Colt McCoy and Nate Sud­feld, have more ex­pe­ri­ence in the Red­skins of­fense than O’Con­nell does. Yet O’Con­nell feels as com­fort­able as, say, Swearinger, giv­ing all three quar­ter­backs cor­rec­tions for a cou­ple rea­sons. One is good sup­port from Ca­vanaugh, who was O’Con­nell’s own quar­ter­backs coach with the Jets. Ca­vanaugh still works closely with the quar­ter­backs and is an ex­pe­ri­enced voice in the room when O’Con­nell needs one.

That doesn’t hap­pen of­ten, how­ever, be­cause all of Wash­ing­ton’s quar­ter­backs take coach­ing well, O’Con­nell said. A player who has ac­com­plished as much as Cousins has could be dis­mis­sive, but O’Con­nell said that he’s al­ways com­fort­able speak­ing up and of­fer­ing cor­rec­tions be­cause he knows they will be taken se­ri­ously.

“He’s open to new things and new thoughts both fun­da­men­tally and scheme-wise and it’s been awe­some be­ing able to work with a guy like that that’s es­tab­lished but also will­ing to be coached like that,” O’Con­nell said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.