MINNEAPOLIS - When the Minnesota Vikings finished up mandatory minicamp in June and departed for a six-week summer break, players were on their own when it came to staying in shape and being ready to go when training camp started in late July.
Most, if not all players, worked out on their own on a regular, if not daily basis. Some played basketball, others found football fields in their home towns did cardio of their choice. Some groups got together to throw a football around, just to keep the feel of it familiar.
Kirk Cousins hit the tennis court. He spent part of his offseason visiting the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island. He got to meet Andy Roddick and John Isner. Cousins said Wednesday at TCO Performance Center that tennis has become his non-football training choice in recent years.
"A lot of guys play pick-up basketball and it’s a great way to get cardio and have fun while still getting all the benefits you’re trying to get from training. I was just nervous about rolling an ankle or something happening in 5-on-5 and I thought what would be the next closest thing where I could be in my own space? I realized tennis would be a great thing to do," Cousins said. "When I went out there to hit, somebody told me Pete Sampras used to warm up for serving by throwing a football because the motions are so similar. I hadn’t even thought of that, but when I started serving I realized how similar they truly are."
Cousins even had that conversation with future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees, who spent 15 of his 20 NFL seasons with the New Orleans Saints, at the Pro Bowl a few years back.
"He said a serve is the only throwing motion where the object stays in your hand, that actually helps strengthen a lot of the muscles in the back of your shoulders. I was already sold on tennis at that point, but that put me over the edge," Cousins said. "Now in the summers I play a lot of tennis as a way to make sure I’m getting my cardio, but also doing something fun."
Cousins, entering his 11th NFL season and fifth with the Vikings, is 33-29-1 in four seasons and has one playoff win. He’s thrown 99 touchdown passes and 55 interceptions, and is now tasked with leading a Vikings’ offense under another new coordinator, but with new head coach Kevin O’Connell calling the plays after winning a Super Bowl with the L.A. Rams.
In addition to tennis helping his shoulder gain strength, he gets his running in and also works on agility, having to move laterally to get to certain shots.
"I honestly do think it’s helped me with my movement in the pocket. I’ll never be a Lamar Jackson type but I think playing tennis is just one way to kind of help train that instinct of moving and running," Cousins said.
The Vikings hold their annual night practice at training camp Monday at TCO Stadium, and their first preseason game is next Sunday at the Las Vegas Raiders.