ASHBURN, Va. -- Kirk Cousins patiently turned from one reporter to the next. He politely answered the first dozen or so questions sent his way, he nimbly sidestepped any and all use of the word competition and then, scanning the faces huddled around him, he laughed.
"I certainly didn't expect, as a fourth-round pick, to be one of the more talked-about players," said the Washington Redskins' other rookie quarterback. Of course, Cousins certainly didn't expect to be hired for a job no one really wants him to have either.
The Redskins' drafting of Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III with the second overall pick and then Cousins, Michigan State's all-time winningest quarterback, exactly 100 picks later was still a subject of fascination this past weekend, as the Redskins closed their rookie minicamp. For one simple reason: Cousins isn't a schlub.
Cousins left Lansing with the most passing touchdowns, passing yards, completions, total offense and 200-yard passing games in school history. No Spartan has had a better passing efficiency and only one, Robert McCurry in the 1940s, was also a three-time captain. Cousins had hopes of being a second-round pick and he had absolute expectations he'd go somewhere he might one day be the starting quarterback. Not here.
The Redskins traded three first-round picks and a second-rounder to get Griffin. In his first post-draft press conference, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan paired the words "franchise quarterback" with Griffin three times. He twice called him "our future," once his "quarterback for the next decade," and then Sunday, officially named Griffin his starter. After five rookie practices.
"We all know the situation I'm in," Cousins said, without a trace of bitterness, resentment or anger. He and Griffin roomed together this past weekend at the team hotel, Griffin said they'll be roommates again during training camp and they even went out and ate a burrito together. ("Not the same burrito," Griffin clarified.)
"Robert's a likeable guy," Cousins said. "There's not a whole lot there not to like."
"Kirk's trying to make this team just like I'm trying to make this team," Griffin said.
OK, now that's just silly. But still, it speaks to a certain mutual humility and it makes Shanahan's prediction that the pair will "have a lot of fun" growing together seem plausible.
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Cousins said they did indeed go back to their room and draw plays and talk football every night. (Cousins said he's coming back next week for offseason conditioning with a dry erase board.) Though Griffin took snaps and called out the plays during drill work, Cousins equally huddled with quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Griffin regularly was the first to congratulate Cousins during team periods, slapping hands and tapping him on the butt. He even rubbed off on Cousins some. Griffin is more demonstrative, Cousins is more business-like. But on Sunday, after completing a long pass downfield, Cousins whooped and chest-bumped an offensive lineman.
"They're both great guys," said the recently signed wideout Brian Hernandez. "There is no tension."
Cousins isn't naïve. He said things like, "If I'm as good as I hope to be someday, then I'm going to get that opportunity whether here or somewhere else," and he talked about having "a great relationship" with Griffin "for as long as we're teammates and beyond that, if or when someday we're not." He knows this isn't 1994, when the Redskins drafted Heath Shuler third overall, Gus Frerotte in the seventh round, and Frerotte ended up with more reps because Shuler held out. Two years from now, Cousins isn't likely to be going to the Pro Bowl (as Frerotte did) while Griffin ponders Congress (where Shuler ultimately ended up).
But Cousins isn't checked out either. His plans for this week at home are to corral his high school friends and make them run the Redskins' offense on a local field. He talks about making the most of mental reps when Griffin is taking the actual snaps and, an Academic all-star just like Griffin, he's consuming the playbook at the same pace as Griffin, Mike Shanahan said.
Cousins says he is "competing for the opportunity to make a difference on this football team." He believes he has coaches who are invested in him and he has a strong faith, one that convinces him he's here for a reason, even if "that reason may be to be a backup for four years and to serve my teammates."
Keith Nichol has run this route with Cousins once before. At Redskins Park as a wide receiver tryout last weekend, Nichol was an Oklahoma transfer and Michigan State quarterback back in 2009. Cousins was a sophomore Spartan signal caller in a QB battle with Nichol to replace Brian Hoyer. Through all of spring practice, training camp and eight games, both did the job. They split snaps, went back and forth on the field and lockered right next to each other the whole time.
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And yes, Nichol knew immediately Cousins was fiercely competitive (he very seriously warned against getting into a game of ping-pong with Cousins). But no, his old college teammate said with a laugh, Cousins never hid Nichol's cleats or stole Nichol's shoulder pads. Even then, Nichol remembers Cousins publicly saying the competition was with each other, not against each other. All he talked about, Nichol said, was "Let's go win this Big Ten championship. Not him, us."
"It was the elephant in the room. I mean, our lockers were right next to each other. But we were friends the whole time," Nichol said. Looking at the situation here with the Redskins, Nichol said, "I know it will work. I can't tell you why, but it will. Kirk's just that kind of guy. He and Robert will probably end up being great friends."
They certainly seem to be going down that path. And hey, Cousins knows he's not consigned to the scrap heap of quarterbacks forever. Who knows, maybe that giddy man in Mike Shanahan's body this weekend will deploy two quarterbacks at once sometime this fall. Maybe Kyle Shanahan, a young coach surely on the cusp of a head-coaching career, sees Cousins as a quarterback he can mold and then take with him one day. Maybe what happened to the Texans when Matt Schaub went down and the Bears when Jay Cutler was injured changes how teams develop their second quarterback.
Regardless, Cousins is doing his best to make lemonade. And he does have one salve: There will indeed be some competition. Rex Grossman arrives next week.