Kirk Cousins is the starting quarterback for the Washington Redskins. For this week, anyway.
After that, he will once again become Robert Griffin III’s understudy, a job he fully understands and one that has involved more work over the past two years than he could have imagined. Since both were drafted in 2012, Cousins has subbed for Griffin in some form or fashion in eight regular-season games — that’s one out of every four — and also finished a playoff loss to Seattle after RG3 was injured.
"I have aspirations to someday be a starter," Cousins said. "And I can’t do that until I do my job as a backup. I can’t look down the road too far. I need to be ready as a backup, which means play well in the preseason and when called upon. Coming off the bench in the fourth quarter in December in a blizzard, I’ve got to be ready. And if I’m not, I’ll never be a starter."
Despite Griffin’s preseason struggles — particularly in a loss to Baltimore on Saturday — there is no hint of a quarterback controversy inside the walls of Redskins Park. While it’s true that Cousins, a natural pocket-passer, currently appears to have a better grasp of new coach Jay Gruden’s offense, it’s still felt that Griffin has more of the talent and upside needed to make the Redskins a championship contender.
Gruden considered having the first-team offense play a series or two in Thursday’s preseason finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers so that Griffin could end the preseason on the right note, but the coach decided against it. This, therefore, will be Cousins’ last expected start until next preseason. Unless there’s a trade, another Griffin injury or a stunning change of heart by the organization, the fourth-round pick from Michigan State will spend his first four NFL seasons waiting for his contract to run out so he can go somewhere else and compete for a No. 1 spot.
Staying focused for that long can very hard.
"That’s the challenge, right?" he said. "We as humans are going to naturally relax when we don’t think we’re the guy, and that’s the challenge, that’s what when the character gets tested, and that’s why not everybody can do this, and not everybody lasts, and not everybody plays 12 years because it is challenging. And we’re going to try to withstand the test of time and see what happens, but hopefully I’ll still be here in 12 years talking to you guys."
Cousins played well in four appearances in 2012 when Griffin was injured, but he failed to make any kind of statement when he started the final three games last season after Griffin was shut down by coach Mike Shanahan. Given the state of the franchise at the time — Shanahan was in his tension-filled last days — it’s doubtful any quarterback could have tuned out the drama and put up superb numbers.
Regardless, it’s not Cousins’ style to make waves and demand a fair fight. When it comes to saying the right things, the Redskins couldn’t ask for a better backup.
"I try to fill the role that the coach and the organization asks of me," he said. "And what they’ve asked of me is to be a backup. I can’t create a role that’s not there. The role for me is to be a backup, and, doggone it, I’m going to be the best backup I can be."