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Extending Plays a Cousins Question Mark

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September 5, 2018

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Kirk Cousins isn’t known as a scrambling quarterback but he did impact some plays with his running when he was with the Redskins. This Sunday he makes his regular season debut with the Vikings and the blockers in front of him will be a reorganized offensive line that at times will be unreliable.

That line is the biggest concern about the team’s chances of making a Super Bowl run. Leaky play by that unit will shorten opportunities for Cousins to find open receivers and score points.

The Vikings rewarded Cousins in the offseason with a three-year, $84 million free agent contract. Ironically, he replaces a quarterback whose strength often is using his legs to make plays. Case Keenum, the journeyman who became a star last season and helped the team to a surprising 13-3 record, certainly doesn’t have a golden arm but he can escape the pocket and throw passes and make runs when all hell is breaking loose.

In today’s NFL of imaginative defensive schemes and athletic pass rushers, quarterbacks are often under duress. If defenders aren’t throwing quarterbacks to the ground, they are at least hurrying their throws. Keenum often avoided problems last season but the Vikings decided to move on apparently because his arm isn’t the strongest, and perhaps concern that he was a one-year wonder.

The Broncos organization, led by Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, thought Keenum was worthy of a big free agent contract and the No. 1 assignment in Denver. The Vikings believe differently even if NFL sources might rate the collective skills and value of the two quarterbacks similarly.

Kirk Cousins

Keenum is reportedly being paid $18 million this year by the Broncos. At $28 million per year Cousins will reportedly earn only about $5 million less than the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, who most everyone ranks as the first or second best QB in the world.

The Packers are the Vikings’ biggest rival in winning the NFC North Division and Rodgers is sort of a Cousins-Keenum combo. Rodgers has a marvelous arm but also the ability to buy time in the pocket with his feet and legs. He sometimes takes off toward the boundary ready to make a last second throw or run.

Cousins is experienced and smart, and can zip the ball long and short. He can find second and third options to throw to if given the time. There will be times—maybe too many if the reshuffled line is inadequate—that he will need to escape the pocket. That’s when the comparisons to Keenum will come, fair or not.

At the end of the season, though, the most meaningful comparison will be whether the Vikings match or exceed last season’s success that included one win away from earning their way to the Super Bowl. Different styles can spell success in the high pressure world of the NFL.

Starting on Sunday, Vikings fans will see whether Cousins can “scramble” away from the shadow of Keenum.

Worth Noting

The Vikings announced today that cornerback Jaylen Myrick, the former Gopher, has been signed to the practice squad.  He was a seventh round draft choice of the Jaguars in 2017 and played five games with them last season before being released a few days ago.

Ticket King emailed customer contacts yesterday about tickets being available for Sunday’s game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Warning to the defending NFC North Division champion Vikings: In 14 of the last 15 NFL seasons at least one team that finished last or tied for last in its division emerged the next season as division champions.

In the NFC North the potential team in 2018 is the Bears, who finished last in 2017 but have added star edge rusher Khalil Mack to join promising quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

It was a winning college football weekend several days ago for former Gophers assistant football coaches who worked under head coach Jerry Kill. Tracy Claeys, the new defensive coordinator at Washington State, helped the Cougars to an opening win over Wyoming, while Dan O’Brien, in his first game as head coach at St. Thomas Academy, directed a 50-7 victory over North St. Paul. Defensive coordinator Jay Sawvell is in his second season at Wake Forest and the Demon Deacons had a season opening win over Tulane. Matt Limegrover, an offensive assistant at Penn State, watched the nationally ranked Nittany Lions escape an upset against Appalachian State.

The Fresno State team that plays the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday night is coming off a 10 win season in 2017 and an opening 79-13 victory over Idaho last Saturday. The Bulldogs are one of the favorites to win the Mountain West Conference championship, and possibly be invited to a New Year’s Day bowl game.

Many Gophers football players sent individual notes of encouragement this summer to WCCO TV sportscaster Mark Rosen and his wife Denise who has been dealing with cancer.

After 15 seasons—separate stints of 11 and 4 years—Star Tribune Timberwolves beat writer Jerry Zgoda has decided not to continue with the assignment, opting instead for general assignments within the sports department.

Chris Hine will be the new Timberwolves beat writer.

The Minnesota United has a waiting list for season tickets as the club prepares to move into its new Allianz Field facility in 2019 after playing two MLS seasons at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus. Allianz capacity will be 20,000 including standing room for 600 fans.

The United’s last regular season game at the Gophers’ football stadium will be October 22. TCF Bank Stadium has a capacity of over 50,000 and the United is promoting setting a new single match attendance record for Minnesota pro soccer. The record was established over 40 years ago at Met Stadium for a Kicks game with an announced attendance of 49,572. See the promotion #50KToMidway.

Gophers volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon on what it’s like to have his undefeated team ranked No. 1 in the country this week: “It’s very similar to being No. 3. …”

McCutcheon remains hopeful boys’ volleyball in the state will eventually evolve from a club sport to being sanctioned by the Minnesota State High School League. Over 40 high school teams with about 400 players played against one another last spring.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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