Jan. 1, 2012
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
TAMPA, Fla. - The football master and the accomplished student met in a cluttered, nondescript one-room television studio located on the back row of a commercial complex.
For more than an hour, former Super Bowl-winning coach and Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden and Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins engaged in non-stop, fast-paced banter touching on shotgun jet sweeps, Mark Dantonio's coaching philosophies, the rejuvenated gridiron traditions in East Lansing and everything in between.
And then some:
"They do a great job moving your launching spot," Gruden said while incessantly clicking video of Cousins completing a pass to Keshawn Martin. "I see three-step, five-step. I see some movement throws, bootlegs. It's really important to move the launching spot at Michigan State, isn't it?"
"Absolutely," Cousins replied without hesitation, as if the two rehearsed their dialogue for hours. "We want to get the D-line not being able to tee off and know where I'm going to be each time. So if we can change the launch point from the middle of the pocket, whether it be a naked play-action or a boot, like you said, when we pull the guard getting out on a sprint-protection, it's a chance to get the D-line guessing and keep them a little more hesitant."
Such interchanges can be seen on ESPN College GameDay (airs Monday at approximately 11:50 a.m.) and ABC during the telecast of MSU's Outback Bowl game against Georgia, and possibly future programs as Cousins nears the NFL Draft.
Gruden, known for the way he dissects - and sometimes skewers - college quarterbacks in his "QB Camp" series on ESPN, and Cousins connected instantly amidst the shelves stuffed with videotape cassettes.
Gruden left his hyper-analytical appraisal of Cousins for another time, and instead marveled about his character and composure.
"I like guys that win, I love guys that lead, I like guys that are consistent and durable and I like guys that are talented, too," Gruden said after the session. "And he's all of that. This is a legitimate prospect that has a lot to do with Michigan State really turning the corner as a football team.
"He reminds me of a successful businessman that I've met, he reminds me of successful quarterbacks (and) successful people. He's the kind of guy that I want my sons to be like. He's a great role model and certainly a heckuva quarterback prospect for any level of football."
As Cousins rode with his brother Kyle in the back seat of a Lincoln Town Car sent to take him from what he figured to be his 440th, and final, practice as a Spartan, to what Gruden calls "my office," he said he wasn't worried about being put on the spot about his knowledge of the game.
"I think to someone who hasn't sat in a quarterback meeting before, it takes them by surprise at how he can try to rattle guys," Cousins said. "But for someone who's sat in a lot of quarterback meetings and has been to a lot of clinics and camps, typically the job of a coach is to put you in a tough position because when you're playing in front of 75,000 people in the stands and millions more on TV, that's not always the most comfortable situation.
"They want to make sure in the meeting rooms they're putting you in tight spots and under pressure and demanding a quick response from you because that's what it's going to take on game day. His show reminds me a great deal of our meeting room and the way our offensive staff interrelates with our players."
However, while Gruden spiced up the taping with some jargon-laden questions, he was more interested in talking about Cousins' teammates like wide receivers B.J. Cunningham and Martin, the "killer B's" -- running backs Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker, defensive tackle Jerel Worthy, beating Michigan for a fourth-straight season and Cousins climbing into the Spartan Stadium student section to sing the fight song.
"You like watching this, don't ya?" Gruden said.
"Love it," Cousins said. "Love it."
Gruden called the Hail Mary that Cousins threw to Keith Nichol to beat Wisconsin one of the greatest plays he's ever seen, and gushed about the diversity in MSU's multiple offense, its aggressive and unpredictable defense and free-wheeling special teams.
"Location. Doesn't it really help these receivers run after they catch the ball? Sometimes if you change his running mechanics that much," Gruden said while holding his hands about a foot part, "that's a 2-yard gain instead of giving this gifted Keshawn Martin a chance to run with it, right?"
"Yup, a lot of times an inch on the throw can be a yard on the catch," Cousins said.
While showing some of the Spartans' successful trick plays from this season, Gruden, who will broadcast the Outback Bowl with Mike Tirico and sideline reporter Jenn Brown, did his part to dispel the myth that Dantonio is a buttoned-down, conservative coach.
"There was a greater focus on Michigan State and the season we've had and talking about some of the guys and personalities than on the X's and O's and football moving forward to the NFL," Cousins said afterward. "He said if I get back to Tampa to speak with him after the combine in March or April, that he'd be more interested then to discuss NFL offenses and schemes.
"Hopefully, I'll be able to do that."
Cousins looked right at home in front of the camera and played off Gruden with his trademark charm and grace.
At one point, when Gruden asked Cousins a leading question about whether he thought he had an NFL arm, Cousins parried it by saying, "You tell me." Gruden was awestruck by the fact Cousins was only a red-shirt sophomore when his teammates elected him captain for the first of three times.
"When you meet a guy that's a three-time captain in these current times that we live in, that means you relate to everybody. It's an amazing accomplishment," Gruden said.
"If we did have a rapport, it's because we're both football guys," Cousins said. "We love the game, we love talking about the game, we love learning about the game and we're both passionate about it.
"When you get guys like that together in a room, they bounce off of each other. Hopefully, I can continue to learn from people like Coach Gruden who will help me move forward and get to where I want to go."
There's no doubt in Gruden's mind that Cousins will be successful in whatever he does and said he's been well-prepared to play in the NFL.
"He's calm, he's cool, he's poised, he's well-spoken, and he sincerely means everything he stands for, and I admire that a lot," Gruden said. "What you like about Cousins is you like the pro-style attack that they play at Michigan State. He's under the center, he's in the shotgun, there's a strong commitment to understanding pass-protections. He has two very good receivers and they give him the green light to take advantage of one-on-one coverage.
"So above the neck, he's very sharp, he's well-schooled and he can make all the throws. I saw him throw the ball in lousy weather against Northwestern. I've seen him be pinpoint accurate, and I've seen him be a consistent good decision-maker, and he's got really good functional athletic ability.
"I like him!"