EAGAN (FOX 9) - Kirk Cousins can feel a chemistry forming in the new offensive approach that the Minnesota Vikings are taking for 2019.
So much so that he's kicking himself for not getting off to a faster start last year, the first of an $84 million fully-guaranteed contract with the Vikings. He was signed by Minnesota after the franchise came one win away from playing a virtual home game in the Super Bowl.
But last year didn't go as planned, especially for Cousins. He threw for nearly 4,300 yards and 30 touchdowns, but the Vikings came up short for the third time in five seasons under head coach Mike Zimmer. They can point to the overtime tie at Green Bay, an inexplicable home loss in Week 3 to the Buffalo Bills and an even more puzzling loss to Chicago in the regular season finale.
It didn't sit well with Cousins, who had the spotlight on him most of the season. It's the nature of the business with a highly-paid quarterback.
"This is professional football, I hope we have expectations. I hope that people on the outside say ‘Boy, they better be good this year or else.' Is that pressure? Yeah, but we're professionals and we're living a dream. We should have pressure on us and there should be expectations," Cousins said Wednesday.
But is it something they talk about in the locker room, or as they get ready for the season? One of Cousins' favorite targets and one of the highest-paid receivers in the NFL, Adam Thielen, says that can be problematic.
"You kind of have a feeling when you're around a team that thinks about expectations or talks about it a lot in the locker room, to the media, what have you. I think that's when you're not playing your best football," Thielen said after the team's walkthrough Wednesday morning. "I think teams that usually win Super Bowls or are playoff teams consistently, they're just coming out here and busting their tail, they're not worried about that. I think that's the mindset this team has right now."
Two of the best offensive players on the Vikings offering different perspectives, while maintaining the same goal: Leading the Vikings to an NFC North title, and eventually, hopefully, a trip to Miami for the Super Bowl.
"Well I don't really care whether they verbalize it, don't verbalize it. Talking about it, not talking about it, let's just go play football and go win football games and set a standard here that's a really, really high standard," Cousins said. "If having a high standard and producing creates expectations that we have to talk about, then that's a good problem to have."
If Wednesday's practice is any indication, the Vikings are making strides offensively under a new offensive approach guided by Kevin Stefanski, with help from Gary Kubiak. The Vikings worked extensively in the red zone, and Cousins hit Thielen, Kyle Rudolph and Tyler Conklin all for touchdowns in tight coverage.
Conklin's was a leaping grab in the back corner of the end zone, and Rudolph's was through a tight window where he had to tight rope the end line of the end zone. It showed off how athletic the tight ends can be.
"He just continues to show that when you throw it to him in those moments, he makes you right, he catches it," Cousins said.
The offensive performance Wednesday has Cousins champing at the bit for Sept. 8, when the Vikings open the regular season at U.S. Bank Stadium against the Atlanta Falcons. For now, he'll have to settle for Saturday night's scrimmage-like practice at TCO Stadium, and Minnesota's first preseason game at New Orleans one week from Friday.
Cousins likes to mimic game situations whenever possible in Training Camp. He was put in a high-pressure spot at the end Wednesday. They had the ball at the opponent's 33-yard line with one timeout and 1:02 to play before halftime, trailing 10-0. They moved the ball, and the drive ended in points.
With a new offense comes new plays, and Cousins has already identified a few of his favorite. He declined to offer up what they were publicly, but said there was one in particular where he told offensive line coach Rick Dennison "That's my favorite play in the entire playbook" and that it should be illegal.
Cousins also told quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak they had a receiver run a route he hasn't seen since his 12 years playing football after high school.
"I got my list of new plays, but I'm not telling anybody except for the guys within the building," Cousins said.
After struggling the first day of Training Camp, Dan Bailey has turned things around with field goals. In his first session, Bailey made kicks from 33, 38 and 44 yards. He made two of three in his second session, missing from 41 yards out before converting from 52 yards.
Shamar Stephen, Linval Joseph, Mike Hughes and David Morgan Jr. did work off to the side Wednesday as they continue recovery from injuries.