Greg Jennings says he is comfortable sharing the spotlight, that he doesn’t lose sleep over his receiving totals, that he is willing to do whatever he can to help young teammate Cordarrelle Patterson explode from a budding star into a supernova.
Wait, is this the same Greg Jennings who was on the debate team at Western Michigan? The one who loved to do the Lambeau Leap and scored two touchdowns in the Green Bay Packers’ Super Bowl XLV victory? The one who acted on prime-time shows such as “Criminal Minds” and “The League” and starred in that Old Spice TV ad a few years back?
“I don’t have to be the guy,” the veteran Vikings wideout, introspective as always, quietly but passionately told a reporter the other day. “It’s funny because the more experience you have, the most knowledge you gain — if you’re willing to learn.”
But that doesn’t mean that Jennings, soon to be 31 and somewhat overlooked entering the second season of a five-year, $47.5 million contract, plans on sitting in a rocking chair on the sideline and watching Patterson, tight end Kyle Rudolph and others catch all the passes in coordinator Norv Turner’s proven offensive scheme. Jennings is eager to show that he still is capable of shining, too.
Last season, Jennings caught 68 passes for 804 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games. The receiving yards were his fewest in a season in which he played more than eight games since his rookie year with the Packers in 2006.
“I don’t dwell on it,” he said. “I’ve never been a stat guy. At this position, I know that sounds a little too good to be true. Once you get caught up in the stats, I feel like it affects your game because you start worrying about your own individual success and you put that as a priority over the team.”
The game of musical chairs was a major factor, though, with the Vikings going back and forth between Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel and even trotting Josh Freeman out for a game.
But Jennings clicked with Cassel, catching 34 passes for 413 yards and three touchdowns in Cassel’s six starts. His other touchdown catch came after Cassel relieved Ponder in a Week 13 loss to the Chicago Bears.
“The big thing about Greg is he’s such a professional, and I think you have a great rapport with a guy like that because he understands where he’s supposed to be,” Cassel said. “Greg consistently being in the right spot along with his physical abilities, that makes for a great combination.”
While coach Mike Zimmer said Jennings still is a target for which defenses must account, he also praised Jennings for leading the team’s young group of receivers. Jennings says he would be comfortable in a complementary role if Patterson overtakes him as the go-to guy.
“There may be a guy that gets all the attention, but there’s a reason why he’s able to thrive,” he said. “Not taking anything away from that individual and their talent, but if they don’t have guys that are capable of allowing their talent to be showcased, then it doesn’t matter how much talent you have.”
Still, the Vikings aren’t paying him merely for mentorship. He is making big bucks to make big plays. Jennings knows this, but he says he isn’t worried about what the future might hold if he doesn’t meet the expectations that come with his contract.
“That hasn’t been my mind-set. Understanding how this league works, it’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league,” Jennings said. “All I can do is worry about me. Football is not the beginning and it’s not the end. It’s just somewhere in between, where I am in my life. … So while I’m here, while I’m in it, I’m going to give everything I have and enjoy it.”