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Falcons rookie QB Michael Penix 'blessed' to learn from Kirk Cousins

Michael Penix Jr.'s fascinating NFL journey began this week with his first passes thrown in Falcons practice.

That also meant he had to begin breaking the ice in what most expect to be a bit of an awkward relationship with new, high-priced starter Kirk Cousins. Those who enjoy drama will be disappointed to learn Cousins didn't freeze out Penix.

"He said 'What's up, man?'" Penix said of his first interaction with Cousins, via the Associated Press. "He said he was happy to see me, happy to have me here. I just told him I can't wait to work with him."

Cousins' move to Atlanta wasn't a simple change of residence. The quarterback left Minnesota after six seasons and signed a four-year, $180 million deal, giving the Falcons the reliable, quality starter they've lacked since the final years of the Matt Ryan era.

That deal is what made Atlanta's decision to spend the eighth-overall pick on Penix so shocking -- and prompted scores of NFL pundits to lambast general manager Terry Fontenot for the decision.

We could fill up vast digital spaces debating the choice -- starting with long-term planning versus short-term impact -- but Penix and Cousins don't seem to be interested in wasting their time on the matter. Instead, they're ready to get to work alongside each other.

"We're on the same team. It's not hard to approach that relationship," Penix said. "We've got the same goals. That's to win football games. … It's definitely going to be great. I'm super blessed to be able to be right here in this position with a veteran in front of me, just learning from him and going about my business each and every day and just trying to find ways to improve and get to where he is, multiple years in the league."

In the NFL, May is equal to the first day of high school for a promising student-athlete. Sure, they might have arrived with a reputation for their athletic abilities and potential, but they won't just step into the program and take command instantly. No. 1 overall pick Caleb Williams admitted as much earlier Friday, explaining he needs to listen to the existing veterans on the Bears' roster before thinking he can hit the field and call the shots.

That came from a quarterback who was named Chicago’s starter on Friday. Penix won't have the same privilege, instead being relegated to the bench behind Cousins to learn -- and wait for his opportunity, which could be weeks, months or years from now, depending on how Cousins fares.

That will keep the Falcons -- a team most everyone was already planning to watch closely, thanks to the addition of Cousins -- in the spotlight for multiple reasons. And the controversy-hungry sharks will continue to circle in the waters surrounding Atlanta, waiting for their time to strike.

Penix and Cousins can't afford to pay them any attention. It's already difficult enough in the NFL. And to Penix's credit, he's not worrying about it. Instead, he's focused on being a good teammate and becoming the best version of himself for whenever his opportunity arrives.

"I feel like at this level in the NFL everybody is in the spotlight," Penix said. "You've got to prove yourself each and every day. ... It's something I've been dreaming of since I was a kid. And now that I'm here, I just want to continue to prove myself each and every day and show not just myself but the team that I'm here to work and here to help this team win football games any way that I can."

That moment might not arrive for a year or two. If Cousins lights it up, it could take as long as four years. But eventually, Penix will receive a chance to earn the starting job. It's why Atlanta shunned the critics and spent the pick on him roughly one month after signing Cousins. Penix understands the stakes, and knows he needs to be prepared.

"Whenever my time comes and whenever my number is called, I've just got to make sure I'm ready," Penix said. "I'm here now. I can't sit here and be starstruck no more. I've got to produce."

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