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Kirk Cousins adjusts to new role as Washington’s undisputed starter

Kirk Cousins is adjusting to a new role this off-season, as for the first time in his career, he is the returning and undisputed starting quarterback for the Redskins heading into 2016.

ASHBURN, Va. — Kirk Cousins has filled every spot on Washington’s quarterback depth chart over his four-year career, from No. 3 in 2014 to the top spot last season. Now he's adjusting to another new situation: entering the 2016 season as the team's returning and undisputed starter.

To prepare, Cousins reached out to fellow quarterbacks past and present this off-season, wondering about everything from how they spend January and February to how they balance travel and family during the summer months. It’s a wide array of topics, he admits, but he has tried to implement all of their suggestions as best he can, and has reconfigured his off-season schedule. (And what of the financial adjustments that go along with becoming a clear NFL starter? Cousins declined to provide an update on his contractual negotiations with the team, saying, “Everything I can possibly say on the matter of a contract has already been said, and I’m positive, very confident that when or if something gets done, you guys will be notified.”)

On the field, though, Cousins said he’s comfortable in his new normal.

“You have permission now to take ownership,” he said. “It feels like it did back in college when you were the starting quarterback and you had a chance to really assert yourself.”

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During Wednesday’s organized team activities session, Cousins demonstrated his more exuberant attitude. He threw his towel in the air at one point, playing the role of referee when he felt Jordan Reed was held in a 7-on-7 drill. In full 11-on-11, he ran over to Pierre Garcon for a celebratory head-butt after the two connected for a first down. 

“I’ll be the first one to say we have a lot of talent,” Cousins said. “The receiver position, the tight end position, the running back position. It’s my job, the quarterback’s job, to just get them the football.”

At receiver, Cousins said Jamison Crowder has looked more confident in year two, which “lends itself well to him taking another step forward” after the Duke product tallied 59 receptions during his rookie campaign. As for this year's rookie, Josh Doctson, Cousins said he almost thought the first-round pick was a tight end when he showed up at the facility for the first time, given his 6' 4" frame. Doctson was limited Wednesday with a sore Achilles tendon and was clearly upset that a collision in rookie minicamp was costing him reps. But he has already gained Cousins’s favor thanks to some of the plays he made in college last season.

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“I went back and watched some of his highlights from TCU and he’s a special player,” Cousins said. “It looks like he can make the contested catch, it’s very natural for him. ... I’m just excited to have a weapon like that.”

And while No. 1 wideout DeSean Jackson was a no-show at Wednesday’s voluntary practice, Cousins said he is confident that Jackson knows what he needs to do to be ready by the fall. Coach Jay Gruden also displayed no animus toward the ninth-year vet.

“He’s popped in, had a cup of coffee, popped out,” Gruden said. “Last time I looked up the word voluntary, it is ‘his choice.’ ... He’ll probably show up. Could be next week, could be whenever.”

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As for his tight ends, free-agent addition Vernon Davis adds veteran depth alongside Jordan Reed, who broke the team’s record for single-season receiving yards by a tight end last year with 952.

Cousins applauded him on that mark, but when asked what he’s seen from the 25-year-old Reed, the quarterback issued a challenge that could also apply to himself and most of the rest of the roster.

“We’d love to be able to develop sustained success where it’s not just a one-year flash in the pan,” he said. “I think that’s the challenge: You had a great year. Can you be a pro where you do it again, and then again, and again and again?

“That’s what the great players do in this league, and that’s what the great organizations are expected to do,” he added, “That’s what we are trying to work towards. We are by no means there yet.”

Other news, notes from Washington OTAs:

• Gruden is confident that second-year pro Matt Jones can carry the load of a feature back after Washington lost Alfred Morris in free agency. “He’s a big guy, and I think he can handle it,” Gruden said.

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• Eight months after getting surgery on his left Achilles tendon, edge rusher Junior Galette is now being held out mainly as a precaution. “He’s sitting up waiting for Santa Claus everyday and he hasn’t come yet. He can't wait to get on the pads and practice,” Gruden said. “He’s doing everything he can to get out there. ... It’s going to be an explosion when he gets back.”

• Spencer Long has been getting a few reps at center, but Gruden said that’s only to ensure someone has experience snapping the ball if the injury bug bites the O-line.

• Quinton Dunbar, who converted to corner from receiver last year, looked like a natural defensive back Wednesday, pulling down two interceptions.

• The second-team offense struggled at times, as Colt McCoy was taken down quickly when a defender made it through the middle of the line untouched. He later fumbled after being tripped. Something to keep an eye on, though it's still very early. 

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• If chemistry is worth anything in the defensive backfield, it should benefit safety DeAngelo Hall and corner Josh Norman. Hall helped bring Norman to D.C. earlier this offseason and the two played catch for a while Wednesday. Talent is certainly nice too, and Hall says his job becomes much easier when he rarely has to worry about half of the field now.

• In the middle of a question about his team’s defensive front, Gruden stopped himself to mention second-year linebacker Preston Smith, who was chasing down receivers Wednesday and has drawn praise for his weight room performances. “You watch him out there,” Gruden said. “He looks pretty dang good.”