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Kirk Cousins studying hard but mostly familiar with Vikings’ new offensive system

Cousins is entering his fifth season as Minnesota Vikings quarterback, and has his fifth different coordinator. Go back to late in his 2012-17 tenure with Washington and his coordinator carousel has featured seven in the past seven years.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) looks to pass the ball against the Chicago Bears during the second half Monday, Dec. 20, 2021, at Soldier Field in Chicago. The Vikings won 17-9.
Jon Durr / USA Today Sports
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EAGAN, Minnesota — Kirk Cousins knows the drill well. When spring arrives, it’s time to learn a new system under a new offensive coordinator.

Cousins is entering his fifth season as Minnesota Vikings quarterback, and has his fifth different coordinator. Go back to late in his 2012-17 tenure with Washington and his coordinator carousel has featured seven in the past seven years.

There is some familiarity for Cousins in his latest study sessions. Minnesota’s new head coach is Kevin O’Connell, who was Cousins’ quarterbacks coach with Washington in 2017 and will call the plays this fall. And the new offensive coordinator is Wes Phillips, who was tight ends coach in Washington during Cousins’ final four seasons there.

Both O’Connell and Phillips have learned under Sean McVay, who was with Cousins as Washington’s offensive coordinator from 2014-16 and coached the Los Angeles Rams to a Super Bowl victory last season. And both O’Connell, as offensive coordinator, and Phillips, as tight ends coach, most recently worked with the Rams under McVay.

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Cousins said missing four practices last year didn’t set him back because he was in a fourth straight season with a similar system (but his fourth different offensive coordinator) under head coach Mike Zimmer. He said it would be different if he were to miss time this camp under new coach Kevin O’Connell and new offensive coordinator Wes Phillips.

Nevertheless, Cousins said he’s putting in a lot of work to learn the new system. He likened to it to being an NFL rookie in 2012, learning under McVay in 2014 and to 2018, when he first joined the Vikings when their offensive coordinator was John DeFilippo.

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“There are elements that are the same, but it’s amazing how much things have evolved,” Cousins said after an organized team activities practice Tuesday. “Looking back to like when I was with Sean McVay in 2016. Sean’s offense, to the degree that this would have similarities, has gone a long ways over the last five years. … There’s foundational undertones that are similar, but I’ve just learned it all as if it’s new and just have to learn it as the 2022 Vikings offense.”

Still, in the month and a half Cousins has been with the new coaching staff during offseason drills, Phillips has sensed the quarterback is familiar with the system being put in place.

“He’s doing great,” Phillips said. “Kirk’s got a lot of experience, a lot of games played, and a lot of experience with a lot of concepts that we run. … The read might be slightly different, so those are some things that he’s kind of adjusting to. But his ability to reference things that he’s already experienced is a huge asset for us. We’re just trying to tweak instead of it being a whole new concept.”

Phillips said Cousins Is “more like a coach in the meeting room.” He compared working with Cousins to when quarterback Matthew Stafford arrived in Los Angeles last year after 12 years with Detroit.

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Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins looks to the sidelines against the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Jan. 9. The Vikings beat the Bears, 31-17.
John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press

“They can reference plays, specific plays, ‘Oh, that was 2015 when we were playing the Eagles,’ ” Phillips said. “(Cousins is) a very hard worker. … It’s always going to be a little bit of a verbiage change, but I think we’ve gotten through that phase now.”

The last time Cousins had the same coordinator for two straight full seasons was his time spent with McVay. He then had Matt Cavanaugh with Washington in 2017. With Minnesota, between DeFilippo and Phillips, he had Kevin Stefanski, Gary Kubiak and Klint Kubiak.

“You’re spending time studying,” Cousins said of this spring. “For me, it’s been a lot of time on flash cards. Just trying to memorize plays and terms and formations and protections and just the rules around all those things so it becomes instinctual. You feel like an eighth grader studying for a quiz in school the next day the way you go home each night.”

Cousins said the biggest difference in learning a new system is “terminology.” That’s where the flash cards come in.

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“It’s been an effective method for me but not one that I’ve used a lot in the past,” Cousins said.

Another difference for Cousins this season in Minnesota has been his head coach coming from the offensive side of the ball. For the previous four years, Cousins had Mike Zimmer, a longtime defensive coordinator who was fired in January after eight Vikings seasons and replaced by O’Connell.

Zimmer and Cousins sometimes butted heads, but the quarterback didn’t offer much Tuesday in comparing what it’s been like under O’Connell after time spent with Zimmer.

“There’s obviously (some) changes, but I wouldn’t say it’s a big deal that I would be focusing on,” Cousins said.

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