Kirk Cousins is giving the Redskins a second rookie quarterback with intriguing possibilities

August 21, 2012

Kirk Cousins grabbed the rookie quarterback spotlight, if only temporarily, in the second half of the Washington Redskins’ preseason game Saturday night in Chicago, posting eye-catching numbers that included a nearly perfect passer rating.

What Cousins’s exploits last weekend mean is open to interpretation. Bears analyst Jim Miller was quick to raise the possibility that the Redskins could have a quarterback controversy brewing, a suggestion that Cousins was equally quick to reject this week, when he said it’s clear the team’s starting job belongs to fellow rookie Robert Griffin III.

Cousins’s 18-for-23, 264-yard, three-touchdown passing performance was accomplished with — and against — players fighting for spots on the Redskins’ and Bears’ season-opening rosters. Still, it raises the prospect that Griffin isn’t the only rookie Redskins quarterback with some intriguing NFL possibilities.

“Kirk is doing very good,” wide receiver Pierre Garcon said Tuesday in the locker room at Redskins Park. “He’s picking up the offense. He’s running the offense well, as you saw Saturday night. He’s doing a lot of good things. He’s making his reads and making plays and he’s coming along well.”

Cousins, a fourth-round draft pick out of Michigan State, is taking all the attention in stride. Reporters have surrounded his locker the past two days, but as Cousins acknowledged, it’s a locker situated in a temporary row of stalls, used by the Redskins during preseason because 90 players are on the roster.

“They’re trying to find the best quarterbacks in the world that are available to come here and play,” he said. “That means I’ve got to be on top of my job each and every day. Preseason games, right now, are my Super Bowl. And I need to do as well as I can in every one I get a chance to play in.”

Cousins certainly did well with his opportunity Saturday. He threw fourth-quarter touchdown passes to tight end Niles Paul and wide receivers Aldrick Robinson and Dezmon Briscoe. He had a passer rating of 154.1, just shy of the maximum rating of 158.3.

“You see where he has a lot of command over the offense, a lot of command over the huddle,” said wide receiver Anthony Armstrong. “He has a lot of enthusiasm. It may be kind of corny, but it’s easy to see the guys follow him.”

Cousins said he isn’t carried away by his performance.

“It’s never as good as you think,” he said. “It’s never as bad as you think. There were certainly some good things to take away to gain some confidence. There were certainly some things that I want to get better at and be more efficient. That’s why I’m out there learning. But I think the best part was the amount of reps I got. To play an entire half is so valuable for my development.”

The Redskins’ selection of Cousins raised some eyebrows. They already had picked Griffin, the Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor, with the second overall choice in the draft. The team could have used the fourth-rounder it spent on Cousins to fill another need and help Griffin succeed, some observers said. Even Cousins has said he was surprised to be chosen by the Redskins.

But the Redskins have maintained he was a talented player they couldn’t pass up, and Cousins has said during training camp that he has grown increasingly comfortable with his situation.

“I think I’m doing well,” Cousins said this week. “But it’s a long road and I have by no means arrived. You never really have arrived. You’re constantly striving to get better. I think that I’m taking the right steps, doing good things. But there’s still a long ways to go and I have the long view in mind.”

Cousins reacted to Miller’s comment about a quarterback controversy by saying Monday that this is Griffin’s team and Griffin’s opportunity. He said he isn’t even spending much time fretting about whether he’ll enter the regular season as the primary backup or the team’s third quarterback behind Griffin and veteran Rex Grossman.

Shanahan has declined to talk about the situation in detail. But it seems unlikely that the Redskins would enter the season with a rookie backed up primarily by another rookie, even after Grossman completed only two of 10 passes in the preseason opener at Buffalo and didn’t play in Chicago.

Shanahan said this week that he knows what Grossman can do and didn’t want Grossman to play only one series against his former team, the Bears. Saturday was a chance to evaluate Cousins, Shanahan said.

When Cousins took a snap with the starting offense and extensive work with the second-string offense during a recent training camp practice, Shanahan said that was part of the team’s rotation for practice-field snaps.

Cousins said his goal is to simply play as well as he can and let the coaches work out the team’s quarterback hierarchy.

“We’re all fighting for recognition,” Cousins said. “When we’re playing the second half, we have a lot to play for regardless of the score on the scoreboard. I told the guys, ‘We’re working right now. We can sleep on the plane. We can sleep tomorrow.’ ”

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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