A year ago at this time, Robert Griffin III was the Redskins’ starting quarterback and Kirk Cousins was an afterthought, relagated to taking second and even third team reps.
Now, Cousins is The Man in Ashburn. And it’s changed everything, especially how he leads in the huddle, team meetings and the locker room.
“Well, you have permission now to take ownership,” Cousins said Wednesday after the second of 10 OTAs practices at Redskins Park. “As a backup or as a guy competing for the spot, it doesn’t get received really well when you start to try to take ownership. It looks like you’re trying to jockey for the position and be one of those guys. You just try to handle it the right way.”
Last offseason, Griffin received all of the first team reps throughout the spring and summer, while Cousins and Colt McCoy split the second and third team snaps. In fact, Jay Gruden didn’t hand Cousins the keys until late August.
This offseason, it's all different. Griffin is gone and Cousins is coming off a record-breaking season. And, if Cousins doesn’t sign a long-term deal in the coming weeks, he'll play for almost $20 million in 2016. Either way, Cousins is expected to be the highest paid player on the team...in addition to being the most important player on the team.
“Now as the starter, you really can take ownership,” Cousins continued. “And it feels like it did back in college when you were the starting quarterback and you had the chance to really assert yourself.”
Cousins added: “I enjoy being able to do that, and I think it helps me as a quarterback to have ownership because at the end of the day, I’m the one holding the football in my hands.”
Before the public knew him as the NFL's best cornerback of the 2015 season, Josh Norman was best known for getting in a scuffle with quarterback Cam Newton at the Carolina Panthers training camp last August.
While it's crystal clear that Norman brought his gift of the gab from Charlotte to Washington, D.C., a potential dustup between the brash cornerback and star quarterback Kirk Cousins is probably not on the horizon.
"Well, you know, " Norman said with great laughter following Wednesday's OTA. "What can I say? Kirk and I are just a little bit different."
The dust up between Newton and he was all the talk of 2015 training camp, and while it looked bad on the surface, it wasn't much more than two incredibly competitive players, both of whom also enjoy talking smack, refusing to back down.
The dynamic between he and Cousins is different. Not bad or not positive, just not what it was with Newton.
"There are limits to my madness," Norman said, again, with a great big smile across his face. "But, umm... yeah I think it will be just a bit better," Norman quipped, with the entire group of reporters and personnel laughing. Kirk's my guy. He's great."
But that's not to say Cousins isn't going to make it a competition.
Norman noted that the quarterback was a bit more lively under center on Wednesday, throwing playful jabs at the defense.
"I was like, 'I don't want to go there yet. I want to be cool,'" Norman said, smile always present. "He looked away a couple times and he didn't throw no balls so I got a little jubilant, ya know? I was like, 'alright, what are you gonna do about it?' Just a little competition."
"I think, on the last play with the ones, he threw a ball, and completed it, and Kirk got all excited again. I was like 'Kirk, I'm gonna whoop y'all butt today."
While no one wants to see teammates fight, Norman brings a level of competitiveness the Redskins can definitely use. While the scuffle with Newton was a hot-button issue, the fact remains that the Panthers' team chemistry was as good as it ever was. The team's cohesiveness was one of the main reasons the Panthers were in San Francisco for Super Bowl 50.
Norman is hoping he can provide competition needed to take the Redskins to the next level, albeit without a fight.
"It's all fun and games," Norman said to media members.
"We make each other better. We just have to keep challenging each other."
Jordan Reed is expected to be front-and-center for the Redskins' offense in 2016, and with good reason.
The athletic tight end had his best season as a pro in 2015, hauling in 87 catches for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns. Reed was also the healthiest he's been since he entered the league in 2012.
The organization has made it clear that Reed is a key cog in their machine, signing him to a five-year, $50-million contract extension earlier in the month.
Simply put, Reed is a matchup nightmare. He is part of the new breed of tight ends: Physical freaks with uncanny athleticism and unparalleled agility for someone of that stature.
But where Reed really stands out is in his route-running.
Reed's route-running isn't just good, it's great.
Former Maryland standout and two-time Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis was signed by the Redskins this offseason to provide guidance and depth to the position. He's had very little time to work with Reed, but it's clear to him that Reed's ability to run routes isn't just the best among tight ends, but the best among every pass-catcher in the NFL.
"I think Jordan Reed runs routes better than the best wide receivers in the National Football League," Davis told reporters following OTAs on Wednesday. "Route-running is his super power."
It may be hard to fathom given the type of season Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown had a year ago, or just how easy Cincinnati's A.J. Green and Atlanta's Julio Jones makes it look. On top of that Reed has to be compared to Seattle's Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski. But the praise coming from a standout tight end like Davis should be evident to just how good Reed is. But Davis isn't the only teammate effusive in praise.
Kirk Cousins looked Reed's way often last season, and very rarely did the decision to do so end up in an incompletion. During the last four games of the season, in which the Redskins went 4-0 and locked up an NFC East championship, Cousins threw to Reed 31 times, and Reed caught all but two of the passes.
When asked if Reed still needs to improve, Cousins was quite honest. "Does he have to improve a lot?" he quipped at the pool of reporters at the Redskins' facility.
"Well, he was pretty good last year."
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