Kirk Cousins has a reputation of being an emotional gunslinger — a guy who turns the football over a lot and panics. Well, that guy seemingly no longer exists. Cousins is a totally different football player this year and a lot of that could be credited to his personal QB coach, Jeff Christensen.
“Selfishly speaking, it’s awesome,” Christensen told Pro Player Insiders hours after hearing that Kirk Cousins had been named the starting Quarterback of the Washington Redskins. Christensen was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 5th round in the 1983 NFL draft. But in the late 1980′s he decided to start coaching and is now the President/CEO of “Throw It Deep Academy.”
“We talked this week before his game and I said – don’t turn the ball over,” said Christensen. “If you go 20 for 24, that leaves you 40 for 50 – and 40 for 50 with no turnovers speaks volumes for your improvement. So just be, without being conservative, be a little conservative and be smart with the ball and good things will happen.”
Unfortunately, Cousins would go on and throw an interception on his very first drive. But instead of that becoming a “same old Kirk” moment, it was a glimpse of this new player he’s become. “I think the thing that told me a lot is that he threw the pick on the screen pass, and it doesn’t matter whose fault it is – it’s still a pick and the other team has momentum,” said Christensen.“Kirk last year – that Kirk would’ve pressed and then came back and tried to make a big play. This Kirk took a deep breath, came back out and ended up with a lead at halftime. He got some completions in a row and was real smart with the ball. I think that’s what the NFL has become from the Quarterback perspective.”
Making mistakes is inevitable. No player is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. However, Christensen’s goal was to help limit Cousins’ mistakes and help him handle his mistakes properly. “When you make a mistake as a Quarterback, there’s a huge momentum swing in the game,” he said. “The only way you can get the momentum back is if you can put some plays in a row together, like the great ones do. Then you can take momentum back. That’s where young guys often times press, thinking that they can do too much and those guys playing defense in that league are pretty good; so that usually ends up with a bad experience.”
Jeff Christensen believes Kirk Cousins is going to surprise people this season because of his new found poise. “This Kirk, a year wiser — we’ve spent dozens of hours talking about situations – thought processes. Being around in May, June and July a lot — he’s just different. He’s more confident, he’s more assured, he’s delivering the ball better now — we’ve fixed some things with his feet — and I just think he’s going to play at a high level.”
The progress has been evident with Kirk Cousins this pre-season. He’s more confident than ever in the pocket. He’s run a clinic when it comes to footwork and he’s showing a lot of poise. This could all be attributed to Jeff Christensen’s program.
“Every drill we do — I try to emulate what they’re going to go through in the pocket and I’ve forced them to make certain movements,” said Christensen. “Then after they do it, I narrate what they’re doing before and after: what he should feel, what he should think as he’s doing it. Often times as we’re doing it, they don’t know what they’re doing until I do what I do. So it forces them to react and so it’s what’s going to happen to them in a game. When they get into the games, if the drill was orchestrated properly (and after 40 years — I hope I can put a drill together properly) then I’ve forced a imitation on all the different aspects of all those different throws in a game — so he’s always repeating those movements. Then we film it and then good or bad we go over it and we analyze what was good about it or what was bad about it. If it’s really bad, we’ll do it again and again. If it was really good, we’ll just say — it was great, let’s go on to the next one.”
Christensen says that through that process, every week, Kirk Cousins just got better and better and better. It got to the point that Cousins started telling Christensen how a drill was perfect and why it was perfect. Then Christensen would watch the film and realize that Cousins would be spot on with his personal evaluation. Christensen is all about making sure players know the “why and how” in terms of throwing the ball. It’s important for a Quarterback to recognize what he did wrong and why it was wrong. As well as, knowing what was right and why he did it right.
“Every time we went this year, he’d [Cousins] just say — “I fell better, better and better,” said Christensen. “We got him to understand the value of his feet and his balance, what it was going to cause and what he was trying to accomplish with his feet — how that affects his arm, ball flight — the trajectory of the ball flight. Was that against zone — was that against man coverage? If it was against man coverage than you probably threw that ball too low — you may want to get that ball up.”
He continued, “the business that I’m in is very tricky. “I’m kinda like a golf swing coach. I am not going to start talking with a lot of guys they compete with — about coverage’s or what they should look at. That’s the coach’s job. I don’t ever want to get in the coach’s world or do that to a kid. So I say, ‘okay, how do you set this play up — explain this play to me — how he’s suppose to throw it against which coverage.’ He’ll do his drop and I’ll tell him when to throw it on the command based on reactions. I force him to make all the different throws in sequence to hopefully emulate exactly what he’d do out of his playbook, based on what his coach tells him.”
Kirk Cousins’ training sessions would last about 3 1/2 hours — which is pretty thorough. “We would take our time,” said Christensen. “You have to talk a lot during this process. I think a lot of those conversations, I think he just started getting a more clear picture. As he got more accurate with the ball, he just got more and more confident. It’s still a position of getting more confident. That’s what drives the whole train.”
Confidence is exactly what Kirk Cousins has a lot of now. Especially after truly finding out where he stands with the organization as of Monday. But really the change began early this spring. “We went to a high school to throw and I said, who’s coming,” said Christensen. “He said, ‘I think Colt [McCoy] is coming, seven receivers and I invited RG [Robert Griffin III].’ And I said, ‘you invited RG?’ He said, yeah, of course I did. When he said that, I said wow, alright — he’s there now. He’s not trying to be overly competitive with his teammate. He just wants everyone to get better. He knows that RG is going to get better and he’s [Cousins] going to get better — he’s going to do the best he can. But when a guy starts thinking like that, now you have a true leader on your hands.”
That reminded me of a quote from Head Coach Jay Gruden in his presser earlier Monday after announcing Cousins as the team’s starter: “Kirk has done everything in his power to be a supportive teammate, number one. He’s never done anything behind anybody’s back. He’s done everything right.”
Lost in the dysfunction surrounding the Washington Redskins is that Kirk Cousins is actually a really good person. As Jeff Christensen says, “he’s the guy every dad would want their daughter to marry.”
I think many automatically assume that Kirk Cousins is this guy who was envious of the attention Robert Griffin III gets. But he’s not that guy. “A lot of times, people like Kirk are perceived as being too good to be true,” said Christensen. “It’s all true. He’s a good dude. He is a good, good, good human being. To the point that every time I’m done working with him, I come away feeling like I’m a better person. It’s genuine.”
Speaking of good human beings, Washington Redskins Pro Bowl RB Alfred Morris goes with Kirk Cousins to train all the time. Jeff Christensen considers Morris to be one his most favorite people on the planet. “Alfred Morris comes with him all the time and catches for us – I helped work with him on catching the ball better,” said Christensen. “No one deserves more success than him. He’s such a thoughtful guy.”
Between guys like Cousins and Alfred Morris the Redskins do have a lot of players in their locker room who are are genuinely good people. It’s one of the reasons why Jeff Christensen believes the Washington Redskins could have some success this year. “They did do a good job on the “it” factor – getting some good human beings in that locker room.”
He continued, “I don’t want to jinx it, but I think the Redskins could be, and this is based off him [Kirk Cousins] – and I’m ultra confident in him now – I think it could be a nice little surprise here for the NFL season.”
The “Throw It Deep” Academy is affecting a lot of lives in a positive way. Although it’s noted as a Quarterbacks and Receivers Training Academy, it’s really become a “ball skills” academy, according to Christensen. “There’s so many kids now who think they’re supposed to body catch a football. Old school football – there’s no such thing as a body catch – you use your hands. We actually have a lot of DBs now that w’ere teaching how to catch the ball. Who may end up being a huge success story this year is, Tommy Nelson with the Baltimore Ravens. He was a free safety for two years – drafted, played safety in college and runs a 4.35 forty. He’s competing for the fifth receiving spot with the Ravens. He’s one of my Wide Receiver coaches at the academy and when Kirk [Cousins] would could come to town, he would run routes and catch balls for Kirk. Then we got him a tryout with the Ravens as a receiver. My WR coach Tim Ehlebracht teaches players perfect hand placement when catching the ball. Tom Nelson is proving Tim right — he’s yet to drop a ball in camp. Nelson may go from being a safety in the NFL to being a Wide Receiver because we taught him how to catch the ball. So, it’s more of a ball skills academy now than a receiving academy.”
He continued, “I’ve got five really good assistant coaches – young guys who all came to me as student and now they coach with me as I’ve gotten older. We’re a swing coach – we teach them perfect swing. We teach them that perfect golf swing – why the ball comes out their hand a little bit. I think the thing we do a little different is, based on a lot of things with these high school kids – different hand size – 5ft 10 vs 6ft 5, they are all a little different. So you can’t just coach them like you coach everyone else. You have to tweak based on what they can or can’t do. I had a kid Thursday night that went 31-42 throwing the ball.”
The Throw It Deep Academy has hundreds of high school kids now that Christensen coaches around the country. There’s also 22 NFL players in the program. “We go to Phoenix from February to April – Monday thru Thursday with a bunch of NFL guys to get them ready. Ryan Lindley came to me this year in the off-season after he was released and we got him throwing the ball really well. Then the Patriots, of course, signed him recently. So it’s really fun and gratifying. It’s getting a lot of interest now because people are watching [Jimmy] Garoppolo and last night Drew Stanton goes 8 for 9. If you apply the teaching that I’ve created and the drills I’ve created, you’ll get better because you’ll have a better understanding of how to know if the ball is coming out your hand right.”
To find out more information on Jeff Christensen and the Throw It Deep Academy, visit his website: www.throwitdeep.com.
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