ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — Kirk Cousins doesn't have to look over his shoulder at Robert Griffin III anymore, and that's making a substantial difference in his approach to being a team leader.
For the first time, Cousins is taking part in offseason workouts as the Washington Redskins' unquestioned starting quarterback. Cousins is getting paid like the man and is acting like it.
"You have permission now to take ownership," Cousins said. "As a backup or as a guy competing for the spot, it doesn't get received really well when you start to try to take ownership, it looks like you're trying to jockey for the position and be one of those guys. ... It feels like it did back in college when you were the starting quarterback and you had the chance to really assert yourself."
Cousins is stronger and more polished than he was at Michigan State, but the assertiveness has been evident through several sessions of organized team activities. Cousins takes all the first-team snaps, Colt McCoy is the clear backup and sixth-round draft pick Nate Sudfeld is the long-term project.
Earlier in the spring, Cousins gathered some receivers in Tampa, Florida, for informal workouts — something he didn't have the standing to do when Griffin was on the roster. The Redskins can't go full-out during OTAs, but he's trying to create game-day urgency in May and June.
That's a major change from even a year ago when he was competing to be the starter.
"Yeah, (we) definitely notice his confidence and being the leader, knowing he's the quarterback going into the year," wide receiver Pierre Garcon said Wednesday. "Definitely a good thing to see."
Matt Jones, the top running back after Alfred Morris left to sign with the Dallas Cowboys, tries to get together with Cousins before and after practices to pick his brain. Cousins is only 27, but the leap he has made in teammates' eyes is much bigger.
"His leadership changed drastically," Jones said. "He's out here each and every day, he's talking more, he's involved in stuff more. I really would like to be around Kirk more than I was last year because he took a different approach how he steps (in) to practice. I like getting better with him."
Cousins has more weapons than a year ago with the signing of tight end Vernon Davis and drafting of receiver Josh Doctson. Davis is nursing a groin injury and Doctson has been bothered by Achilles and foot problems that have kept him off the field.
Healthy and motivated to earn a long-term contract, Cousins feels like an NFL starter but is still picking up the different aspects of what that means. He's trying to find a routine and doesn't mind asking more established quarterbacks for advice.
"I've called a few of the starting quarterbacks around the league, a few of the retired guys who had great careers, and just asked them what worked for them in the offseason," Cousins said. "What was their rhythm in January, February, March (and) when they went back in April, May, June, what's their rhythm? What's their rhythm in the summer, how do they handle family, how do they balance travel and opportunities? I'm still figuring that out."
Cousins will make $19.95 million next season with the franchise tag, and contract talks are ongoing for a long-term deal. He said last week he didn't have any update but promised "when or if something gets done, you guys will be notified."
For now, Cousins is service notice that the Redskins are his team.
"I enjoy being able to do that, and I think it helps me as a quarterback to have ownership because at the end of the day I'm the one holding the football in my hands," he said.
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