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Weeks ago, Kirk Cousins set a goal of being far enough along in his Achilles tendon rehab to join the Vikings on the sideline for their Dec. 24 home game against the Lions. Now that he's healthy enough to stand and walk without his right foot in a boot, and move out of the way of any play that spills onto the sideline, he'll count his return as both a milestone and a reward.

"I think it'll be a lot of fun to get back around the game day atmosphere," he said Friday. "One of the interesting parts of being injured is, you see things from a different perspective. And I think game day will be no different. I'm going to try to use that to help me as a player going forward."

Nearly two months into his recovery from his Nov. 1 operation on his torn right Achilles, Cousins is ahead of the schedule the Vikings' medical staff set for him, spending mornings at the team facility before afternoon and evening sessions with his bodywork specialist Chad Cook. Dr. Chris Coetzee, the foot and ankle specialist who performed Cousins surgery in Eagan, glowed about the quarterback's progress during a six-week checkup last week, Cook said.

"He was absolutely thrilled with how well Kirk was doing, how strong his tendon is, ligaments around the area and how well his muscles are firing already," Cook said. "We're well ahead of the curve as far as where we need to be right now, so we're all excited about that."

Cousins is walking with a heel lift in his shoe, for now, but will progress to walking barefoot and could be jogging by the end of January. If he were to return from the injury in six or seven months, as Vikings running back Cam Akers did in 2022, he could be on the field for portions of organized team activities in May or mandatory minicamp in June.

At the outset of his rehab, Cousins said, doctors told him they wanted his progress to resemble the stock market, where fluctuations between growth and setbacks were normal and acceptable as long as he was trending in the right direction. Through seven weeks, though, Cousins said he's felt "it's been a bull market.

"I've been surprised at how every day I feel like I'm doing something better and better and better," he said. "So that's been encouraging psychologically. You're reminded that you're moving in the right direction, almost on a daily basis. I think once I get far enough along where my gains are just going to be the field, you probably don't notice that as much. But in the early stages, you know, it's, 'Oh, I walk to the to the shower better. I can walk into work differently. I can go up on my toes now.' Like, basic stuff: 'I can drive a car now.' There are all these reminders of how you're getting better."

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins on Nov. 17. Now he’s healthy enough to stand and walk without his right foot in a boot.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins on Nov. 17. Now he’s healthy enough to stand and walk without his right foot in a boot.

Shari L. Gross, Star Tribune

Since Cousins was carted off the Lambeau Field playing surface on Oct. 28, his rehab has been a group effort.

Cook said Coetzee, Vikings executive player health and performance director Tyler Williams and head athletic trainer Uriah Myrie and he have kept "open books" with one another about Cousins' rehab, with the team building the overall plan and Cook asking how he can supplement it through his work. The Vikings have everything from blood flow restriction therapy and laser treatment to an underwater treadmill for Cousins' rehab, while Cook adds muscle activation techniques, neuromuscular stimulation and radio frequency treatment, all with the goal of preventing loss of muscle strength and getting the quarterback's nervous system firing again.

Cousins said Aaron Rodgers, who tore his left Achilles tendon in his first game with the Jets in September, texted him shortly after he was injured at Lambeau to offer support. Cook has compared notes through the process with Aaron Alexander, Rodgers' bodywork specialist, and said, "We've leaned into any contacts Kirk has; I've leaned into all of my professional docs, therapists, things like that. We're just saying, 'OK, let's collect what works, what doesn't work and let's streamline it."

During a normal season, Cook said, much of his job is to help Cousins recover from the hits he took in the previous game and get his body ready for the next one. They quickly realized that with fresh sets of weekly ailments, they could use Cousins' Achilles rehab to help other parts of his body improve.

"It just allows us to say, 'OK, if he's not practicing and training every day, let's take a look at all the hard hits, all the old microtraumas that have happened over the last couple of years,'" Cook said. "Whether it's around his ribs, whether it's around the rest of his body, let's address as many of those things and clean them up [as we can], so that when he's moving 100 percent and coming back to full speed to get ready for next season, we're not trying to do those in a one- or two-month window."

They traded time on the Vikings' underwater treadmills for pool workouts in the Cayman Islands, as Cook accompanied the Cousins family on their bye-week trip in early December. Even Cousins' attempt to crawl into the Caribbean Sea, as recorded by his wife Julie on her Instagram page, had a medical benefit. "Just getting the sun is good for the healing," Cook said.

The Vikings' medical staff will remain instrumental to Cousins' rehab as it stretches into the offseason, even with the quarterback scheduled to hit free agency in March. Both General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O'Connell have sounded open to Cousins' return in 2024, though the possibility will depend on contract negotiations that figure to happen around the NFL combine in early March.

For now, the locus of Cousins' recovery is the Vikings' facility, where he spends his mornings in team meetings and treatment sessions while dreaming of playing tennis this spring and fielding questions from Harrison Smith about how soon they can chip and putt golf balls together.

"I said, 'Well, I can probably do that now,' " Cousins said. "The first time I can get through a drive — which I probably could do now — but the first time I can walk a golf course, hit a good drive, that'll be another milestone in the offseason."

He'll hit one on Sunday, when he rejoins teammates for the first time since he left Lambeau in a cart.

"I know I've got to, on one hand, protect myself [on the sideline]," he said. "But on the other hand, I want to be out there and around [the team] and experiencing it."