During one of the Vikings’ practices this spring, Kirk Cousins backed off on a particular play, moved away from his first target based on the cover he saw from the defense and threw towards the one of his secondary targets in the game.
After the game, new Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell, the former NFL quarterback who had served as Cousins’ position coach five years earlier, encouraged him to change his thought process.
“He said, ‘Hey, I want you to take this [first option] with that look [on defense]. don’t progress [through your reads].’ And before he said I would have improved every time,” Cousins said. “We probably played that game half a dozen times in the spring. And when we got that look, I was gonna take that [first] option.
“It’s important to understand what he wants and not just play ‘Well, I’ve done it before, so I’m going to do it again. “It’s more like ‘what do you want it to look like? Let me run this way.” But it takes time learn.”
Cousins and O’Connell developed a strong relationship when they were together in Washington in 2017, and their partnership – the subject of much intrigue after the Vikings hired O’Connell in February and gave him a new contract at Cousins in March – enters a new phase as the team begins O’Connell’s first training camp.
O’Connell’s instruction, for the first time, comes to Cousins with the weight conferred by his head coaching title. Cousins’ performance, perhaps more than that of anyone else on the 2022 Vikings roster, could dictate the outcome of O’Connell’s first season in the biggest job of his career.
“As a head coach, whether you’re on the offensive or defensive side, the quarterback has to be an extension of you as a head coach.”
They will meet one-on-one at least once a week during the regular season, O’Connell said; this fact at least has something to do with O’Connell’s role as the Vikings’ offensive caller, but it represents a shift from Cousins’ relationship with Mike Zimmer, who didn’t only started meeting individually with Cousins in 2021 after the quarterback suggested a weekly film study in their fourth season together. Given how Cousins, a three-time Pro Bowler, sees it as his job to play the job the way his coaches want, it’s worth noting the steps O’Connell has taken to establish an open line of communication.
“I think that’s one of the best things you can do, especially as a play caller,” O’Connell said. “As a head coach, whether you’re on the offensive or defensive side, the quarterback has to be an extension of you as a head coach. It’s going to be a process, but we’ll find the time early in the game. week or later in the week. I might like something, [offensive coordinator Wes] Phillips might like something, [quarterbacks coach Chris] O’Hara. But at the end of the day, if the quarterback, the guy who’s going to pull the trigger, doesn’t like something, then you’ve got plenty of [other] rooms.”
“It’s a big part of my relationship with him, it’s great to have a starting point from our past. But ultimately it’s something we’ll build on throughout the week and find out what works. best for us.”
The Vikings signed O’Connell days after his year working with Matthew Stafford resulted in the Rams winning Super Bowl LVI. They gave Cousins a contract through 2023 that includes a no-trade clause, cementing O’Connell’s partnership with him during the first part of his tenure as Vikings coach.
“It’s important to understand what he wants and not just play ‘Well, I’ve done it before, so I’m going to do it again.’ It’s more like, ‘what do you want it to look like?’ Let me execute it this way.”
Cousins, who turns 34 next month, wants to retire to Minnesota. O’Connell, who turned 37 in May, is the face of a new organizational approach that the Vikings hope will last for some time.
For everything to work, the two men will need each other.
“At the end of the day, you have to do it the way the coach wants it,” Cousins said. “I’ve found that when you’re coachable and you learn it the way they want, that’s when you’re most successful because they really put the whole plan in place to build on on these elements of coaching.”
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