Before the draft, Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph figured the team's offense would have to change.
There would be no Percy Harvin and he is a hard player to replace on the field with his versatility. Only a few hours later, the Vikings drafted Cordarrelle Patterson to – in some ways at least – minimize the changes needed in the passing game sans Harvin.
But at that time, Rudolph had already spent a week with veteran receiver Greg Jennings and was immediately impressed.
"Phenomenal. He's a great addition to our team, not only on the field but also in the locker room. He brings a huge leadership role to our young wide receiver room. He's just a phenomenal person as well as a great player," Rudolph said.
Little has changed in the Vikings' assessment of Jennings since that, nearly three weeks ago.
"His experience jumps out at you for sure. Knowing where we are, at the receiver position, having a guy of his caliber – a Pro Bowl player, a great player in our league for a number of years now – his leadership, his experience, his big-play ability, it's still there," head coach Leslie Frazier told NFL Network Thursday morning. "He has been banged up a bit the last couple of years but he is healthy now. We are looking forward to him having a great season in Minnesota."
Leadership has been the theme over the past two months when representatives from the Vikings describe Jennings. They have seen him display his reliable route-running and apply his veteran savvy against them in the Vikings-Packers rivalry, but there is another area in which Jennings could help.
Jennings quickly made an impression on QB Christian Ponder.
"I thought even the first day, he runs very crisp routes. You know where he's going to be. He's not really a guy that you have to learn," Ponder said. "He's got a longer stride, but very consistent in what he does. I don't think it's going to take very long to establish that chemistry."
Rudolph believes that Jennings can help Ponder "a ton" and said that process began already last month.
"He's found things that he's seen through his years in the league that he's felt, and just to have a guy like that in the huddle and around workouts and stuff like that, it's huge for our offense," Rudolph said.
Last year, Jennings caught only 36 passes for 366 yards and four touchdowns and was limited by injury. He was inactive for eight games during the regular season and had only one 100-yard game – against the Vikings in the season finale, when he was targeted 12 times and had eight catches for 120 yards.
Harvin, meanwhile, was lost for the final seven games of the regular season, during which the Vikings went 5-2 and made their run to the playoffs. It was also a stretch Vikings coaches and general manager Rick Spielman point to when asked the reason for their confidence in Ponder.
"We are expecting him to take another step forward. We saw glimpses in the month in December – when we went 4-0 – of what he can be," Frazier told NFL Network. "We are really excited about some of the things we saw down the stretch of the season and we are looking for him to carry that over to our next season."
Ponder will be attempting to do that without Harvin, and Rudolph isn't alone in thinking the offense will change some because of that.
"It's definitely going to have to change. No one can do what Percy did for our offense. He's just a phenomenal player," Rudolph said. "But Greg brings a different dynamic. Greg's a phenomenal route runner. He showed his production over his career that we expect him to bring that here."
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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