Strange as it may seem, the Minnesota Vikings could be relying on a player in his first year with the team to be one of the leaders.
On a 90-man offseason roster that features 25 rookies, 11 players with less than a full year of accrued service and 12 players with one year of service, that's the reality of the Vikings' situation. More than half of their roster has less than two years of experience.
Greg Jennings, who signed a five-year, $45 million deal after seven seasons with the Green Bay Packers, is one of only eight players with seven or more years of experience on the team.
"That's part of the deal," Jennings said when asked about his leadership role. "I'm one of the older guys on the team, definitely in our unit room with the wide receivers. I'm going to be a leader. That's why they brought me here, to develop the young guys and obviously to produce on the field. But I'm excited about the young talent. I'm excited about what the future holds in the upcoming year."
The Vikings are a young team overall, but the wide receiver corps personifies the youth. Of the 11 receivers, only Jennings and Jerome Simpson have more than two years of experience. The rest are rookies (four of them), have less than a year of experience (three of them), one full year (only Jarius Wright; Greg Childs was on injured reserve) or two years (Stephen Burton).
General manager Rick Spielman confirmed that Jennings' leadership will be counted on with a young receiver corps.
"To go out and sign a Greg Jennings this offseason and to have (rookie Cordarrelle Patterson) under the tutelage of a Greg Jennings, who's not only a great football player, but a true pro's pro, that's our responsibility to bring this kid along," Spielman said.
When QB Christian Ponder was asked about the changes at receiver – specifically the trade of Percy Harvin to Seattle, the free-agent acquisition of Jennings and the drafting of Patterson, he, too, pointed to Jennings' leadership.
"Obviously, Percy was a very dynamic and good player that we obviously used a lot on the field. We lost a player for sure and Seattle got a good one," Ponder said. "But to have Greg come in – obviously we faced him every year twice – he was a good player and will be a good player for us. And to draft Cordarrelle and sign a couple of undrafted guys, it's going to be big.
"The big thing with Greg, who's obviously a great player, is he also provides that leadership. I think he's a true pro. He can show these young guys what it takes in this league. I think we have a good dynamic. Everyone has come and shown up to work. It will be good to get these rookies in this weekend. The dynamic has changed, but I think it's good."
Jennings is hardly the first former Packer to join the Vikings. Between safety Darren Sharper, kicker Ryan Longwell and quarterback Brett Favre – the most notable in a long line – defections from Wisconsin to Minnesota have been commonplace over the past decade.
Jennings said he talked to Favre about the Vikings and received a positive review.
"He loved it. He really loved it. He loved the people. He loved the dynamic here underneath this roof," Jennings said. "Most importantly, he just loved playing the game, being free playing the game."
Jennings started his career with Favre as his quarterback, moved to Aaron Rodgers and now will experience Christian Ponder. But that's not the only change that will take some getting used to.
He may have a five-year deal that averages $9 million a season, but Jennings isn't looking to buy property in Minnesota.
"I'm not buying a house. We found a home to rent. Man, the cost of living is ridiculous here. Beautiful homes, beautiful neighborhoods, but I can't afford it, honestly," he said. "I'm quite frugal. I know the contract might say otherwise, but I'm a little frugal. It's exciting.
"It's just a little bit more to do here than previous locations, but I'm excited about it. I'm excited about the change. My family's excited about it. That's what makes it even easier. We were ready for change. We were excited about it and being in a bigger city is a little exciting, a little different."
With everything new in his professional life, one might think it's hard for Jennings to adjust to wearing a purple uniform with "Vikings" across the jersey, but he insists that's not the case.
"Actually it looks really good," he said. "… It fits really nicely."
The Vikings are hoping to get that same kind of fit out of Jennings in their offense.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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