“It’s not about me. It’s not about just Christian. It’s about us.”
Last winter, as the prospect of joining the Vikings became more realistic, Jennings intensely studied the team’s offense.
More than anything, he scrutinized Ponder. His technique, his delivery, his timing.
Jennings needed to see why it was that the then-24-year-old quarterback passed for only 2,935 yards (25th in the league) while accumulating an underwhelming 81.2 rating.
“Not trying to point the finger,” Jennings said. “But in this situation I needed a finger to be pointed. Because hopefully it’s not at Christian.”
With each game he critiqued, Jennings identified Ponder as a young quarterback with an ability to make every throw and athleticism that’s “off the charts.” He also sensed Ponder simply needed more help from his receivers, aid he is certain he can provide.
Jennings also will be asked to become a galvanizing mentor within the receiving group. He will arrive in Mankato with 425 career catches, 6,537 yards and 53 touchdowns. The other 11 Vikings receivers joining him have combined for 127 career grabs, 1,670 yards and 10 TDs.
No wonder receivers coach George Stewart has made certain his ultra-young group appreciates Jennings’ infectious attitude, a presence he likens to Jerry Rice, whom he coached for five seasons in San Francisco.
“Greg’s an encyclopedia,” Stewart said. “So let’s use him. Everything there is to do at that the position, this guy’s done it. He’s seen it, he’s played it, he’s caught it. Let’s ask him questions.”
The road to success
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier has been blown away by Jennings’ unselfishness yet appreciates that edge of ego he brings.
“That’s definitely there, and it’s not a bad thing,” Frazier said. “I like the fact that he wants to be the man. … Greg knows our offense runs through Adrian [Peterson]. But because he’s as smart as he is, he also understands that because of Adrian, it’s going to create so many situations for him that he can thrive in.”
The Vikings should feel fortunate they were able to reel Jennings in on his free-agent visit. After all, when his flight from Michigan landed at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport early on March 15, Jennings came to the curb and was stuck waiting on a ride, an iffy first impression that left his wife, Nicole, unsettled.
And when the limo finally arrived, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave was a one-man greeting party.
Jennings confesses he had no idea what to think at first. Musgrave was friendly but so reserved, humorous but somewhat shy.
“I couldn’t gauge him,” Jennings said. “And I’m a people person. Normally I grab a vibe instantaneously. But it was kind of weird. I was like, ‘Man, this dude is a little different.’ ”
Luckily, by the time Jennings and Musgrave arrived at Manny’s Steakhouse in downtown Minneapolis to meet a larger and more enthusiastic dinner party that included Frazier, General Manager Rick Spielman and star defensive end Jared Allen, the rapport soared.
Initially, there was so little talk about football and so much more about family and Midwest living and life in general. For Jennings, it was a visit that felt so “authentic and not at all scripted.”