Adam Thielen says new Vikings QB Kirk Cousins has been 'phenomenal' entering 2018
Minnesota's big-money signal-caller was the focal point of a training camp practice under the lights
EAGAN, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings picked a good year to show off their new state-of-the-art practice facility.
The team opened its full-scale stadium, just one of the fields at its mountainous TCO Performance Center, to a crowd of thousands on Saturday night. It was the first and only evening practice on the Vikings' 2018 training camp schedule. And it was a fitting showcase -- one of bright lights, video boards and fireworks -- for a franchise and fan base whose No. 1 focus is a similarly luxurious quarterback.
Star wide receiver Stefon Diggs is regularly the Vikings' most popular face at events like these, eliciting childish screams from kids and grown men alike, and that was no exception at TCO Stadium. But if there was one player who came awfully close to eclipsing the hype of No. 14, it was Kirk Cousins, the $84-million man whose salary alone revealed in March that this team believes he's the missing link.
It's August now, with just about a month until the reigning NFC North champions try to one-up their 13-3 season. Nothing short of a return to the NFC title game will suffice for the front office -- one that gave Cousins historic cash in order to steady the QB spot and bring a Lombardi Trophy to the Twin Cities. But by the looks and sounds of it, no one is too worried.
Cousins floated a perfect 35-yard touchdown to Diggs on the first snap of one-on-one receiver vs. defensive back drills. (The ball just missed the outstretched hands of All-Pro Xavier Rhodes.) Later, in 11-on-11s, he scrambled up the middle, slid along the TCO turf, motioned for a first down and got a roar from the crowd. And at the end of practice, after Vikings play-by-play voice Paul Allen drummed up fanfare for every player but especially Cousins, the quarterback's teammates raved.
"He's been doing a phenomenal job," said receiver Adam Thielen, who had a career-best 1,200 yards in 2017. "I think, me personally, I need to do a better job for him ... we talk a lot about it in the receiver room, just making sure that we're making plays so he feels comfortable throwing anything to us."
Backup quarterback Trevor Siemian, who started 24 games for the Denver Broncos from 2016-2017, thinks Cousins is already comfortable doing that. And he also thinks the Vikings' new starter has wasted no time becoming a locker-room leader.
"I'm learning a ton from Kirk," Siemian said. "I'm not teaching him a thing. He's played a lot more ball than I have. But just bouncing ideas off each other in the meeting room, it's a really healthy relationship, and I think we've got a good thing going ... It's genuine (leadership), so guys respect that. He's done a heck of a job. I think everybody respects him, and he's done a really good job grasping the system but also earning everybody's trust."
Until the season begins, of course, the jury will remain out on whether Cousins was the right choice -- the perfect big-name pairing for a big-money facility on a team with sudden big-game aspirations. But make no mistake about it: Big games are exactly why the Vikings paid him.
"Like everybody else, we got one thing in mind," Siemian said. "We want to win a Super Bowl."
"Skol" chanters who just happened to be at TCO Stadium on Saturday night got a taste of that -- through a look at their "world-class facility," as Thielen put it, and a look at their team's handsomely paid quarterback. Some day, we'll see which one proves more important.
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