Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins may be adding something to his game this year: Scrambling.
Coach Mike Zimmer recently explained that the team wants to see Cousins take advantage of the opportunities that may present themselves to tuck the ball and run, especially when the team’s offensive weapons are blanketed down the field by man-to-man coverage. On Friday, Cousins explained that, when it happens, it won’t be planned.
“I think it’s more off schedule,” Cousins told reporters. “I always felt like that’s a missing element in my game. The ability to not only run for yards but run around and then make throws. I was talking with Fran Tarkenton this winter and Fran said, ‘Kirk, I only ran a 4.90 40[-yard dash]. I wasn’t fast, but I ran around to then be able to throw.’ I play with rhythm and timing, so I’m not trying to play off schedule all the time, but I think I have the ability to run around a little bit and I think I have the arm to make those throws. So, it’s just a matter of doing it. It’s so important that it’s instinctual. When the ball is snapped, you can’t say on this play, ‘I’m going to give up on my read and just run around.’ It has to be when the play breaks down. That’s the hard part, training your body and mind to do that, so it was good in the game [against the Saints] to have that moment where it did break down, the protection was loose, and my instinct was to take off and run. The fact that it was man coverage is what made it a conversion, if it’s zone coverage I probably get tackled and we punt. It has more to do with the defensive look combined with the run attempt than it does just the run attempt.”
Last year, Cousins routinely could be gobbled up by pressure when flushed out of the pocket, unlike Case Keenum in 2017. So it’s really not about mobility for Cousins but opportunity, and he’ll apparently be looking for those opportunities in a given game.
“It’s really hard with a red jersey,” Cousins said regarding developing the ability to run while practicing. “That’s why you say you don’t really know a lot about yourself until you get into live bullets, because with a red jersey, we’re going to argue back and forth all day long that, ‘Oh he was sacked’ and, ‘No I wasn’t, and I would have slipped out of that and I spun away.’ That’s kind of the ongoing banter between the offense and the defense all training camp long and OTAs. It’s been hard to train, because you aren’t really getting hit so you don’t know when you can realistically escape pressure and when you have to say, ‘Hey I was sacked there, and I can’t get away with that.’ You kind of just have to learn it in live bullets, and time will tell if I’m going to do that or not. Again, there are a lot of guys that are going to be in the Hall of Fame who didn’t have that element to their game. You don’t necessarily need it, I just think it’s an added bonus. Our coaches have said, ‘There’s probably more there in your game than you have let on.'”
Even though Tarkenton may not have had the straight-line speed, he had the agility to buy time with his feet. Cousins hasn’t shown that yet. And the fact that he hasn’t may give him chances to do that which he previously hasn’t done, since defenses won’t be expecting it.
Of course, there’s a risk to running. Former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper wasn’t shy about tucking the ball and running with it, but it eventually caught up with him in 2005, when a hit from the side in Carolina resulted in a serious knee injury. Culpepper was never really the same after that.
For Cousins, periodically taking advantage of the opportunities to run will eventually force defenses to account for it, which could make it easier for him to find open receivers. Before defenses react, however, Cousins has to show that he can do it, and that he can do it smartly. He’ll apparently test it out in the preseason; whether he can pull it off in the regular season remains to be seen.