RICHMOND — Odds are, Kirk Cousins is going to play. Not just in preseason, mind you, but in real games with considerable stakes that could determine whether the Washington Redskins reach their playoff potential.
Not to wish any harm to Robert Griffin III, the face of the franchise and a seminal talent. Maybe he'll have the medical good fortune and immeasurable grit that allowed Vikings running back Adrian Peterson to recover from a gruesome knee injury and post landmark 2012 numbers — without missing a start.
But Griffin, the second-year, Heisman-winning quarterback from Baylor, plays with an abandon that captivates fans and invites contact. And Dr. James Andrews' peerless credentials notwithstanding, there's no forecasting how durable Griffin's right knee will be after January's surgery.
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Which brings us to Cousins.
Trading up to select Griffin with the second pick of last year's draft always will be a landmark moment for the Redskins. But taking Cousins, an All-Big Ten quarterback at Michigan State, three rounds later already has proven wise, confounding draftniks who panned the choice as redundant.
Cousins is that good — on the field, in the locker room and in the community. Indeed, he and Griffin give Washington a unique tandem that appears to have all the skills, character and charisma one could envision at the sport's signature position.
Alas, quarterback isn't receiver, linebacker or tackle. Only one plays at a time.
"The expectations for (me) are to create an environment where when I'm in the game there is not a decreased expectation for our offensive production," Cousins said last week as the Redskins opened training camp in Richmond. "So when Robert is out and I have to go in, that the … coaching staff and my teammates expect for the offense to be as explosive as we were when Robert was in.
"That's certainly a lofty goal for me, but that's what I need to be as a backup quarterback. There's got to be no drop-off."
Contrasting styles aside — Griffin is much less wedded to the pocket — Washington thrived at times last season with Cousins. Moreover, he embodied clutch in a come-from-behind, overtime victory over the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
But Cousins' debut was discouraging.
It was Week 5 at home against Atlanta, when Griffin exited in the third quarter with a mild concussion. Cousins connected with Santana Moss for a 77-yard, go-ahead touchdown, but after the Falcons regained the lead, Cousins threw two interceptions as Washington lost 24-17.
Eight games later, their playoff fate in the balance, the Redskins trailed the Ravens by eight points deep into the fourth quarter. When Griffin hobbled off, his right knee dinged, Washington appeared cooked.
But with 29 seconds remaining, Cousins threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon. He then ran a quarterback draw for a 2-point conversion that forced overtime, where the Redskins prevailed 31-28.
Cousins started the following week at Cleveland, passing for 329 yards and two scores in a 38-21 victory. He relieved Griffin, then crippled by the knee, in a 24-14 home playoff loss to Seattle, completing 3-of-10 throws.
"I think with Kirk, it started in the preseason," Redskins linebacker London Fletcher said. "He progressed each and every practice. He did some good things in the preseason games to where Coach (Mike) Shanahan felt good enough about making him the No. 2 guy as a rookie. …
"He did a great job of getting us prepared for games from a defensive standpoint. And then when he got his opportunity to play, you think about the Baltimore game when he had to go in there in a situation where we were behind, he makes some great throws and plays for us to win the game. Then we go to Cleveland, he played well. Kirk's definitely shown that he can play in the National Football League."
Drafting two quarterbacks was unconventional. Making them 1-2 on the depth chart bordered on desperate and/or reckless.
But the Redskins rated Cousins, the first Michigan State quarterback to beat Michigan three consecutive years, as a second-round talent. So when he was available in the fourth round, they pounced.
Cousins validated the team's evaluation.