Jennings still stalks success, and wants to bring the Vikings with him

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 25, 2013 - 10:33 AM

After years as a foe, new Vikings wideout Greg Jennings has his sights set on proving to his teammates and the NFL that he can still torture secondaries.

#SuccessStalkers

The creator of the hashtag isn’t quite certain what sparked him to stir his Twitter movement. But Greg Jennings knows the crusade has proved invigorating and won’t be slowing anytime soon.

On many mornings, the new Vikings receiver energizes his own pursuit of excellence with a push for his Twitter followers — more than 308,000 and counting — to do the same.

Jennings will call roll in the #SuccessStalkers community, wondering who else is attacking their day with purpose and verve.

Inevitably, he’s flooded with replies. The tweets come from professionals pushing toward job promotions. Students celebrating A’s on big tests. Single moms taking summer classes while working two jobs.

Attitude-wise, they all fit right in with a 29-year-old NFL veteran who is suddenly on a quest to re-establish himself as one of the league’s elite. In a new city. In a new offense. With a new unproven quarterback.

Said Jennings: “Whatever walk of life you’re in, your goal should always be to stalk some kind of success. So you have to ask yourself daily, ‘What are you doing to truly be successful?’ Because everyone has it in them. Everyone has that key to their success. But the only person who can unlock it is you.”

Perhaps it sounds corny, maybe a bit hackneyed. So what?

Jennings wants to make clear he arrived in the Twin Cities devoted to elevating his game. Perhaps equally important, he is driven to bring others along with him.

On Thursday afternoon in Mankato, Jennings will check into Vikings training camp eager to recruit 89 new teammates to the movement.

He has been asked to quickly generate momentum with quarterback Christian Ponder while also serving as sage to an ultra-young receiving corps that includes first-round draft pick Cordarrelle Patterson.

The introspective receiver senses a contagious hunger within this bunch. Which is one of the significant reasons he wound up with the Vikings in March, signing a five-year deal with a group he senses has a dangerous combination of talent, drive and unity.

“I see an organization that’s on the move,” Jennings said. “Obviously you don’t come some place if you think they’re not going in the direction you want to go. But I see the Vikings stalking their success as well.”

Forgotten man?

After a productive, seven-season stay with the Packers, Jennings hit free agency in March seeking “something different.” He wanted a new opportunity to prove himself. He wanted, in his words, to feel wanted.

But why here? Why now? If his predominant goal is to succeed at the highest level, why was he so eager to leave Green Bay, where he posted three 1,000-yard receiving seasons, went to two Pro Bowls and contributed four grabs, 64 yards and a pair of touchdowns to the franchise’s Super Bowl XLV triumph?

Jennings can summarize why his time in Green Bay ran out. The Packers, he believes, already had started moving in a new direction, continually fortifying their receiving corps and allowing promising young playmakers to wedge out the older guys.

So why prolong the inevitable?

In 2011, Jordy Nelson leapfrogged Jennings as Aaron Rodgers’ top receiver. Last season, with Jennings missing eight games because of a nagging core muscle injury, he watched as James Jones and Randall Cobb broke through, combining for 1,738 yards and 22 scores.

Jennings celebrated those successes but wasn’t ready to slide quietly into a greatly diminished role.

He felt compelled to prove his career success hasn’t solely been a byproduct of having played with future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Rodgers and Brett Favre.

Jennings isn’t sure enough outsiders remember that during Rodgers’ first year as a starter in 2008, he was the quarterback’s top target, catching 80 passes for 1,292 yards with nine TDs. Or that he continued to aid Rodgers’ ascension with more than 2,300 receiving yards and 16 scores over the following two seasons.

“I was kind of that comfort blanket so to speak,” Jennings said. “But this is a quarterback-driven league, so people forget about the guys around the quarterback.”

Jennings wanted his abilities appreciated. So in his final months with the Packers, he started thinking more about what was next.

“Maybe,” he said, “I need to go back to my college days where the quarterback wasn’t just viewed as oh-so-great and still prove that I can be successful.”

If Jennings hadn’t tired of Rod­gers specifically, he certainly had his fill of the environment in Green Bay, wondering if the ubiquitous Rodgers lovefest had created a narrative that de-emphasized the strength of the group.

Throughout this offseason, Jennings has subtly jabbed Rodgers, rarely calling him by name and referring to him instead as “12” or “the guy they have now.”

“A lot of times when you have a guy who creates that spotlight for himself and establishes that and takes a lot of that, it becomes so-and-so and the team,” he said. “It should always be the team.”

Asked in a later conversation to clarify those sentiments, Jennings expanded.

“For me, I’m such a team person, I’m going to defer to my teammates,” he said. “I’m going to defer to the team, to the team, to the team. And I think when you reach a point where you’re not deferring any longer, it’s no longer really about the team.”

Jennings paused and looked around.

“Don’t get me wrong, ‘12’ is a great person. But when you hear all positives, all positives, all positives all the time, it’s hard for you to sit down when one of your teammates says ‘Man, come on, you’ve got to hold yourself accountable for this.’ It’s hard for someone to see that now because all they’ve heard is I’m doing it the right way, I’m perfect. In actuality, we all have flaws.”

Helping hand

Separated now from Rodgers and the Packers, Jennings knows a major catalyst for his success is out of the equation.

Yet Jennings also holds an opportunity — the edict really — to elevate Ponder, his new quarterback.

“I’m not saying that if I had wrote a script, this would hands down be the ideal position for me to be in,” Jennings said. “I don’t know. Only God knows that. But for me, it’s a challenge. It’s a change of gear to where now I don’t have that [established] quarterback. That’s what everybody is saying. But in my mind, I don’t need that quarterback for us to be successful.

“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.”

Quickly, he felt ready to join an environment where he felt players were trusted to be professionals without micromanagement.

“It’s not a free-for-all. There’s structure,” Jennings said. “But there’s liberty. You can breathe. It’s like, ‘OK, I can do my thing.’ You know what you need to do, you get it done. Whereas [in Green Bay], everything was more cookie-cutter. … It’s just different. In a good way. And not knocking what we did there. Because obviously it was successful. But here, no one’s walking on egg shells.”

Now the Vikings hope they can be an integral part of the #SuccessStalkers movement.

Jennings desperately craves another 1,000-yard season, another deep playoff run.

He sees what is developing and senses great potential. But then he stops, wincing.

“I hate that word. Potential,” Jennings said. “Because everyone has potential. But everyone doesn’t maximize that potential. They want that potential to show. But they don’t want to do the dirty work to allow that potential to blossom.”

At times, it sounds as if he is auditioning to be the successor to Dr. Phil, spewing motivational maxims on command. But Jennings knows only one way of going about his business. It’s naïve, he reiterates, to sit around waiting for greatness to knock. Success has to be stalked.

“You have to go and get it,” Jennings said. “You have to go and find it. You have to go open some doors yourself.”





 

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