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In A Roundabout Way, Kirk Cousins Finds A Fit With Redskins

By ZAC BOYER | zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

ASHBURN – When he hadn’t yet received a phone call the morning of April 28, the start of the third day and fourth round of the NFL Draft, anxiety started to build for Kirk Cousins.

A three-year starter at Michigan State, Cousins had been told for weeks he was one of the better quarterback prospects. He believed it, and perhaps he was guilty of inflating his own expectations, thinking the hype meant he’d be chosen as early as the second round.

When the second round passed, and then the third, and Friday turned to Saturday, Cousins couldn’t help but feel disappointed. His mind raced, his fears grew, and just when he started to hope that one team – any team – would take him, his phone rang.

It was Mike Shanahan, the Washington Redskins’ head coach, on the line.

“You don’t want to feel too bad for the guy,” said Keith Nichol, one of Cousins’ receivers at Michigan State, “but it’s not a circumstance he expected.”

The Redskins had taken Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III with the No. 2 overall selection in the NFL Draft, giving up three draft picks, including their first-round choices each of the next two years, to move up four spots to select him.

Griffin is a phenomenon, a fan favorite, an affable human being whose talent and charisma are immeasurable. Shanahan has said he thinks Griffin can be the Redskins’ quarterback “for the next 15 years” and that in the NFL, he can “do some things that haven’t been done.”

A hundred picks and 40 hours after Griffin was drafted, Cousins was officially announced as the Redskins’ fourth-round choice.

“We all know the situation that I’m in,” Cousins said.

Always An Uphill Battle

That Cousins finds himself in a seemingly unfavorable circumstance is nothing new. He attended Holland (Mich.) Christian High School, with its 1,000 students and a short history of football, and in the first quarter of the first game of his junior season – also his first varsity game – Cousins broke his ankle.

He returned midway through the season, but didn’t do enough to earn a scholarship from a major college. Even the 3,204 yards and 40 touchdowns he threw for during his senior season weren’t sufficient; it wasn’t until Mark Dantonio took over as Michigan State’s head coach in Nov. 2006 and was hurting for players that Cousins received an offer.

He redshirted in 2007, his first season, and served as the backup to Brian Hoyer, now in New England, in 2008. Nick Foles was considered the Spartans’ heir apparent at the position when Hoyer graduated, but he transferred to Arizona before the 2009 season.

That left Cousins to compete with Nichol, a transfer from Oklahoma, for the job, which he won. Nichol moved to receiver, and by the time Cousins left Michigan State, he had won 27 games, more than any other Spartans quarterback.

He also set school records for passing yards, touchdowns and efficiency, as well as completions and total offense, and he left amongst the top 10 in Big Ten history in completion percentage, passing yards and touchdown passes.

“For us, he was extremely poised and strong-armed and could get out of trouble when he needed to,” Dantonio told a Detroit radio station last week. “We weren’t sacked very often, and I think that was the result of him making good decisions and everything else going on around him.”

Cousins graduated Michigan State with a 3.684 grade point average and earned national awards for his academic achievement. Highly regarded by his teammates for his work ethic, he was only the second player in school history to be named captain three times.

“He is a competitor,” Nichol said. “He’s always prepared for the game. You hear about Peyton Manning, the way he prepares for games, and if he can take that to the college level – I think that’s who he’s very similar to. He’s almost so prepared. He knows exactly what’s going on.”

Putting It In Perspective

The Redskins’ rookie mini-camp concluded last Sunday, and before Cousins walked off the field for the fifth and final practice, he was mobbed by dozens of television cameras and reporters. It didn’t take long for him to be asked about the scrutiny he’s facing as Washington’s other rookie quarterback.

Taking the 6-foot-3, 214-pound Cousins has been a controversial move, one seen as an unnecessary attempt to undercut Griffin. Shanahan, who met with Cousins at the Senior Bowl in January and again at the NFL Combine in February, said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a player he regarded so highly, even though he’s a quarterback.

“You’ve got to do what you think is best for your football team, and once I start thinking about reactions, then I don’t think I’ll be doing this much longer,” Shanahan said. “But the thing I always do is I look at every play a guy makes and I make decisions. To me, that was an easy decision at that pick in the fourth round. Time will tell.”

Shanahan consulted with Griffin the morning Cousins was drafted and told him of the team’s plans to look for another quarterback. He reassured Griffin privately it wouldn’t impact his status as the starting quarterback, and then, at the conclusion of the rookie mini-camp, announced the same publicly.

Cousins didn’t want to talk about what he thought of his selection by the Redskins, or what it may mean for his career going forward. Instead, he reaffirmed his support of the franchise, of Griffin, of the coaching staff, and reverted to the coaches’ adage of being one play away and ready to take the field.

“I didn’t expect as a fourth-round pick to be one of the more talked-about players in the draft,” Cousins said, laughing. “But I think it’s a neat thing. I think it shows why it’s a great place to play, being in Washington. There’s a lot of passion for football in this city, and it’s gonna make it a fun place to be part of this season.”

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