After earning the starting job last year, Kirk Cousins has improved greatly this offseason, and, according to Matt Cavanaugh, isn't content with 2015's results.
Quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh began his tenure with the Washington Redskins last year and, much like a rookie or free agent moving to a new team, had to play some catchup.
"I don't care how long you've been doing it [coaching] and I have been doing it for a while, you feel a little behind," Cavanaugh said. "You aren't quite sure how everything is supposed to sound and you are trying to visualize a play when it's called and a split-second have an answer for the quarterback when he makes a decision."
Joining a team that switched starting quarterbacks right before the regular season didn't particularly make his job easy, which is why he, and the entire organization, is feeling a lot more comfortable as the 2016 season approaches.
With the crux of the coaching staff remaining in place – specifically head coach Jay Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay – and a quarterback the entire team feels confident with, Cavanaugh feels better about what he can provide in instruction this year.
Kirk CousinsThat Kirk Cousins, is returning to the team as the full-fledged starter – a role he carved for himself midway through last year, when things began to click for the offense and the team followed his lead down the stretch and into the playoffs -- has only enhanced Cavanaugh's rapport with him. Entering his fifth year, Cousins has taken it upon himself to determine the best way to maximize his offseason and continue the momentum he created from his first shot leading a team.
"I think he doesn't feel like he's starting from scratch, I think he just wants to build from last year," Cavanaugh said. "He's putting a lot of work into studying what happened last year, all different types of situations, all different types of throws, reads, protections and he just wants to build on it now. I think that's encouraging."
Cousins has moved on from last season – he focused a lot of attention on how to map out his offseason as a starter for the first time – but much of last season has shaped the way he's approached the past few months. The numerous franchise records he broke and the division championship he helped earn have given Cousins a franchise tag and an arsenal of confidence to carry into training camp.
"I think there's no question [Cousins] developed confidence last year," Cavanaugh said. "I think even more than he had when he showed up for training camp. He got the opportunity that he always wanted and he played really well and that's something he wants to build on. The good thing about him is he's not content, he sees a lot more improvement to be made and that's what he's striving for. Being on the bench watching is okay, but there's nothing like getting your reps in and making something happen and starting to believe in yourself."
Some of that has already been seen.
During OTAs and minicamp in June, Cousins looked and sounded more like a vocal leader, often celebrating loudly with his receivers after tossing touchdown passes and providing instruction to the younger players on the team. Cavanaugh doesn't believe Cousins is hamming anything up for the cameras or his ego. He loves football and happens to get excited about plays working.
"If he gets excited about something he's going to let you know about it and that fine because it is natural," Cavanaugh said. "He's not putting on a show, he believes in himself and when he has a vision in his head of what a play is supposed to look like he goes and makes it look like the way it is supposed to. He gets excited and we love that about him."
Now, it's about tightening the nuances of the position – the verbiage, the communicating, the cadences – which all come with time.
"Very few guys come into this league being able to do everything at once, so I think he's at the point now where knows all the routes, knows all the adjustments, he knows all the terms, now it is a matter of 'What else can I add to it to help us get an advantage?'" Cavanaugh said.
Colt McCoy and Nate SudfeldJust as it's helpful for Cavanaugh to continue building his relationship with Cousins and the offense for another year, backup Colt McCoy has benefited just as much. Fresh off a reported three-year contract, McCoy offers more competence in the quarterbacks room.
"He knows the offense and he can execute," Cavanaugh said. "In his mind he probably doesn't get as many opportunities as he thinks he should, but he's a guy we count on. It's a luxury in this league to have two guys that you feel really good about. I am excited for him, he knows there's a lot to learn yet, he knows the struggles of being in the backup position where you don't get a lot of work, but he's fortunate through OTAs that we've split it up, he's almost had as much [reps] as Kirk. He's making an improvement and I am excited about that."
The Washington Redskins held minicamp practice Wednesday, June 15, 2016, at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.
While that might not be the best consolation, McCoy, as he wrote in a Player's Tribune article, has expressed his contentment to stay in a place where he's comfortable, knows he's in a position to play if needed and has earned the trust of coaches.
There is rarely dissonance between he and Cousins, something that pays dividends for both players' developments.
"[Colt's] got a great mentality about balance, knowing that 'Kirk played really well last year and that he's the starter, but I want to play so the only way I can show them I can play is through reps and showing them I know what I am doing' and he takes a lot of pride in that," Cavanaugh said. "Another thing he does is adds to Kirk's game. He's communicative, he's supportive, all the things you want in somebody who doesn't have the chance to be on the field, but what are you bringing into the room? Colt does a great job of that."
Having a reliable second stringer gives rookie Nate Sudfeld time to develop and work with Cavanaugh as he learns the Redskins' offense. He'll likely have plenty of time to show his skills in the preseason and the physical attributes he possesses should aid him in his transition to the NFL.
"He's got ability, smart guy, obviously has size, he's got plenty of arm," Cavanaugh said. "For as tall as he is, he has good feet and I think he has some upside, he has two good guys in front of him who know how to work hard, they know how to lead, they're good examples in the classroom and on the field and I am expecting him to learn fast and get some playing time in the preseason to play well."