Kirk Cousins is transitioning into a new offense in tandem with offensive coordinator John DeFilippo. Find out how the transition is going. Also, Daniel House takes you inside his training camp notebook.
Updated: July 26, 2018, 6:50 p.m.
By: Daniel House
Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been on the job for just a few short months, but the Vikings’ big free agent acquisition is already becoming acquainted in Minnesota.
For any quarterback, it’s an adjustment to learn a new playbook and system. However, this situation is unique as both Cousins and offensive coordinator John DeFilippo joined the team this offseason. Due to time constraints associated with spring practice time, having Cousins report early for the rookie practice sessions has helped ease the transition.
“I think it is great for Kirk and great for all of the quarterbacks to be here,” DeFilippo said.
“We are so time limited in the spring when installing a new offense, and now it was just rush, rush, rush. We are so time limited with the players, and now we can get into the nuts and bolts of what you are trying to do.”
The nuts and bolts are starting to put together the larger pieces of an offensive installation. All of the concepts the team put in during the spring, along with the additional plays yet to come in training camp, will test everyone on the roster, including Cousins. However, the melting pot of concepts from Pat Shurmur’s previous system and the new additions from DeFilippo will help ease the transition. Overall, the offense is starting to become natural for Cousins, particularly.
“The terminology is starting to become my first language as opposed to my second language,” Cousins explained. “I don’t find myself reverting back to how we used to call things in the past at other places I was at.”
Everything is feeling easier for Cousins, including making the correct reads and calls at the line of scrimmage. Now, he can just read, react and make plays, while getting acquainted with his teammates.
“I feel like I’m able to just go play,” Cousins said. “By no means do I feel like I’m there, and it’s done, but I’m certainly farther along than I was in April.”
As Cousins adjusts to a new team, having teammates who are easy to lead is making the transition easier. The willingness of players like wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen to continually improve and push others, helps the new Vikings quarterback.
“They love playing this game,” Cousins said. “There are people in this league who love what football brings them, but they don’t really love football. We’ve got a lot of guys on this team who love football, regardless of what it brings them and that’s obviously fun to work with and play with.”
The Vikings have a very talented stable of undrafted free agents at the wide receiver position. They spent money in undrafted free agency to add both Jeff Badet and Korey Robertson. In addition to those names, they signed Northern Illinois slot receiver Chad Beebe, the son of former Bills and Packers wide receiver Don Beebe. During today’s practice, Beebe got open twice for two notable reps. However, with no press coverage or pads, it’s a very small observation. He has quick, light feet off the line of scrimmage and can make plays out of the slot.
During one 11-on-11 passing drill, Beebe won with an excellent start and feet to grab a quick slant. Later in the practice, Kirk Cousins delivered a corner route to Beebe, who gained extensive separation out of the break. Cousins through the pass with anticipation to the sideline and drove the throw to the hashes. This is a route he executed at a high level during his time in Washington. Cousins dropped a similar throw into Tyler Conklin during a 7-on-7 drill as well, just past the outstretched arms of safety Jack Tocho. Conklin is another player to keep a close eye on during padded practices to see how he gets open in tight physical coverage situations.
In addition, Cayleb Jones continues to show off the ball skills, which made him stand out last year. In various drills, he tracked two notable passes outside his frame. The wide catch radius and contested grab ability separates him from other targets in the hunt for a roster spot.
Another observation worth noting is how smooth Mike Hughes looks from a footwork standpoint. He is extremely fluid and you can see all of the transition quickness in and out of his backpedal. His hip turn and fluidity at the stem of routes allow him to stay tight to wide receivers. He is continuing to evolve technically and will be one of the most exciting players to watch when the team starts pressing at the line of scrimmage in DB/WR drills. Hughes’ preseason performance could shape how the Vikings approach the nickel cornerback spot this season.
In addition, after watching Holton Hill and seeing him in person, I wonder whether he could play a hybrid cornerback/safety role. Perhaps this could be a sub-package where he uses all of the size and athleticism in his skill-set. His well-rounded playing style, including his tackling ability lead me to believe this could be possible. Right now, it feels like cornerback is the natural spot, but it’s not to say he couldn’t be used in a role like this in the future.
On defense, there’s two other young players I’m excited to see as camp progresses. One is linebacker Devante Downs. He is very rangy and has the athleticism to cover plenty of ground sideline-to-sideline. I’ve talked about this extensively in recent pieces. The first few days have been a glimpse, but watching him get downhill and show off his range has been intriguing. In a thin position group, if Downs plays well when camp get physical, it would be an excellent addition to the depth chart.
The second player on defense is safety Tray Matthews. Matthews battled through multiple shoulder injuries at Auburn and still managed to produce. He has a strong upper build and is a physical presence in the backend, specifically against the run. The main area I want to see later in camp is his coverage skills. When he was placed on an island, it was one of his weaknesses at Auburn. He has caught my eye and is someone I had completely forgotten about.
There has been plenty of attention surrounding CFL free agent signing Brandon Zylstra. The Spicer, Minn. native is trying to carve out a role as one of the final wide receivers on Minnesota’s depth chart. His size, versatility and ability after the catch have garnered plenty of attention from many, including offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing that next step from Brandon, in terms of putting the pads on,” DeFilippo said. “Obviously we have no pads on in the spring, we have no pads on here right now, so guys like Brandon that don’t have a lot of experience in the NFL, along with our rookies and some of our other young players.”
“I’m looking forward to them when we’re getting press coverage, when we’re moving around a little bit,” he said.