RICHMOND — The way Kirk Cousins remembers it, the transformation in his thinking about his situation with the Washington Redskins began a month or so into his tenure with the team, well ahead of when there was a tangible reason to support such a change.
It was May 2012, not long after Cousins had been drafted only three rounds after the team chose its centerpiece-to-be, fellow quarterback Robert Griffin III. This was long before Cousins orchestrated two key victories down the stretch for the Redskins last season as the stand-in for an injured Griffin. This was before Cousins spent this past offseason and the early stages of this current training camp practicing with the starting offense while Griffin works his way back from knee surgery in January. So there was no evidence at the time that Cousins held the promise of becoming a starting quarterback in the NFL.
Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins discusses his book “Game Changer: Faith, Football and Finding Your Way” and how he handles being the back-up to one of the most popular athletes in the world.
Jonathan Forsythe talks to “RG3: The Promise” author and Post sports writer Dave Sheinin about what is next for Robert Griffin III and the Redskins.
Cousins and some of his Redskins teammates, he recalls, had piled into a rental car and driven to downtown Washington. They spent time walking around the city. That’s when it began to strike Cousins, he says, that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t quite so hopeless, quite so unquestionably career-stifling, to break into his profession as the understudy to a football phenomenon.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is a pretty cool place to be, a pretty cool city to play for,’ ” Cousins said. “I started to really make it home at that point. And I think through training camp and into the preseason last year on the football field was when it really started to click. And I felt like while everything may not happen right away, if I can be patient, this could be the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Embracing his role
When the Redskins open the preseason Thursday night in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans, it will be Cousins, not Griffin, in the lineup at quarterback. Griffin has been on the training-camp practice field, but Coach Mike Shanahan’s plan is to withhold his mending star from the Redskins’ entire preseason schedule.
The initial mini-uproar over Shanahan using a fourth-round pick on Cousins, rather than addressing other needs, in the same draft in which the Redskins selected Griffin second overall has long since subsided. Cousins helped beat the Baltimore Ravens last season while subbing in the late stages for an injured Griffin. With Griffin sidelined, he engineered a triumph in Cleveland in his first NFL start.
“In the Baltimore game and in the Cleveland game, he showed us that there’s no drop-off,” veteran Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson said. “RGIII is an amazing talent. But God forbid if something was to happen to him, there’s not going to be a drop-off. You’re going to have someone that can lead this team to victory.”
And the value of being with the Redskins has become increasingly evident to Cousins, building ever since that initial realization while he walked around the city.
“Now I understand the great opportunity I have to learn from the Shanahans,” Cousins said. “I understand the great franchise I’ve been able to play for. I understand the history now and the winning tradition and I love living in D.C. I knew nothing about D.C. before moving out there. There are so many positives I knew nothing about when I was first picked.