Cousins connection: Vikings building chemistry with new QB

Rome wasn't built in a day. Championship rosters aren't built overnight.

Quarterback Kirk Cousins' relationship with his Minnesota Vikings playmakers and how quickly they get on the same page while learning a new offense is being looked at under a microscope this offseason. Three months from the start of the 2018 season, people want to know how up to speed Cousins is with the talent around him and vice versa. Maybe someday he, too, will trust a teammate enough for a Minneapolis Miracle-type moment -- much like the trust former quarterback Case Keenum spoke about having with Stefon Diggs.

We often hear stories about QBs buying dinner and gifts for the offensive linemen who keep them protected and upright in games. The relationships between a quarterback and those he'll be throwing to or handing the ball off to is equally important.

These connections don't just happen. It takes months -- sometimes even longer -- for both sides to get to a level where things feel seamless.

Cousins took it upon himself to jump-start that process in early April. He invited Diggs and Adam Thielen down to Atlanta for an informal throwing session before he was able to work with them in an official capacity. It was a chance for the Vikings' top wideouts to learn what Cousins likes to do on the field, how he wants certain routes run and, most important, who their quarterback is underneath the helmet.

"He's definitely a blessing to be around as far as the energy that he brings," Diggs said. "As far as being our general and the guy that's going to lead us, I put 100 percent faith in him and I trust him."

Cousins didn't wait long to break out the energy. He was fist-pumping and yelling during organized team activities as things started to click with his receivers.

"The big thing for him is when you emphasize something and you finally get it done and you finally get on the same page with the quarterback-receiver, it's kind of exciting," Thielen said.

But even with OTAs wrapping up and mandatory minicamp next week, it's difficult to quantify those connections.

"It's hard to figure that out if it's paying off or not," Thielen said. "I know that it doesn't hurt. I think something like that is just a jump-start to a long journey of getting on the same page. I think people underestimate how much time, how much effort and how much repetition it takes to get on the same page with a quarterback."

A handful of figures allow us to measure the success between a quarterback and his pass-catchers. Stats like yards per target and passer rating when targeted illustrate the efficiency between the two sides.

Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph has 15 touchdowns in the red zone over the past three seasons. Only Jimmy Graham (49) was targeted more in that span than Rudolph (48), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Like other Vikings quarterbacks over the years, Cousins is starting to understand why Rudolph's targets are so high. Rudolph is a security blanket in the red zone, an area where Cousins struggled last season with an 80.4 QBR.

As he gets more work in with his No. 1 tight end, Cousins realizes the benefit Rudolph yields. Miked up for practice last week, Cousins proclaimed throwing to Rudolph is "like throwing into a mattress."

Rudolph knows the foundation he's building with Cousins now is an ongoing process.

"It's never something that you get to the point where you're like, 'This is where we need to be,'" Rudolph said. "If you ever do get to that point where you think you are where you need to be, then you are going to start going backwards. For us, we are going to continue to work with every opportunity we have in the offseason."

These mutually beneficial relationships are in the beginning stages, although it hasn't taken Cousins long to command the respect and response from his offensive weapons. In just his first week back in team drills since tearing his ACL last October, Dalvin Cook is starting to get acclimated to Cousins and having 21 other players around him on the field. The time he's spent so far creating trust and understanding with Cousins is helping him establish a baseline with the player who is directly responsible for getting him the ball.

It's a relationship Cook is excited to fortify, and one he believes will pay off.

"If I want to ask a question, I go straight to Kirk," Cook said. "He's the captain of the ship, so I go straight to him. He answers me with all ears open and we're just building from here. It's just a start. OTAs was a start for this offense and we just got to keep building because the ceiling is high."