Jennings details differences in QBs

Greg Jennings has seen a lot of change in his quarterbacks over the last year, but he's never been experienced this kind of turnover. He's had plenty of chances to experience Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder and talked about the differences, from handling the huddle to "playing free."

Getting players to respond to the weekly battery of questions as to who will be the starting quarterback for the Vikings has been like pulling teeth. The players want to show confidence in whoever is starting, but one thing that has been certain – wide receiver Greg Jennings has been much more productive when Matt Cassel is the quarterback than with Christian Ponder or Josh Freeman.

In the four games in which Cassel has been the primary quarterback, Jennings has caught 21 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns. In the nine games in which Cassel hasn't been the primary QB, Jennings has 27 catches for 313 yards and no touchdowns. That breaks down to a per-game average of five catches for 64 yards and a touchdown when Cassel is in and three catches for 35 yards and no TDs when Cassel hasn't played.

Jennings and Cassel had an immediate rapport with one another dating back to the minicamps when both were new to the Vikings locker room. Jennings gained an immediate respect for Cassel because he saw the swagger that comes with being a veteran QB in the NFL.

"He's one of those guys that really understands the game," Jennings said. "He just takes what the defense is giving him. We were kind of on the same level when it comes to what we see and what we're expecting the defense to do. So I think that's why you see us rhythm up."

The Vikings have been a new experience for Cassel because, prior to this season, he had spent his entire career essentially working with two quarterbacks – Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. With the Vikings, he went through three different starters in one month. While it has been a struggle going from one quarterback to another and maintaining a rhythm with the style each brings to the table, it hasn't changed what the receivers are doing.

"It's just making sure we do our job, staying on top of what we do as receivers," Jennings said. "The game doesn't change for us. It's just who is delivering the ball. Catching the ball, everything always stays the same. We're trying to improve and get better as individuals, as a group, as a unit. We have to focus on that, we can't focus on who's throwing the ball. It's been one of those deals we're faced with all year so it's not like it's something new now in Week 14 or 15."

One difference Jennings has noticed is how Cassel handles the offensive huddle. He is confident and a leader, whereas Ponder isn't quite as vocal and tends to play technically sound to avoid making critical turnovers. It may simply be a matter of experience and confidence in his throwing arm, but Jennings sees the presence in the huddle as a significant difference between Cassel and Ponder.

"I think the number one difference is the control of the huddle, the command," Jennings said. "The way they approach the game is pretty much similar. They both study; they're both very smart quarterbacks. Honestly, they both give us a chance to win. I think the number one difference is just the experience. Matt, you can feel that he's much more experienced. He's a lot freer out there. When Christian's out there, he's free but he's not as free as he may possibly want to be. But other than that, they both are very smart quarterbacks. They both have the tools to make sure we're in a position to win, to have success. Like I said, it all comes down to execution."

Asked to define what he meant be "free," Jennings said, "just playing loose and not tight and trusting everything. Trusting himself, trusting the guys around him, just being free and having fun playing football."

With Adrian Peterson expected to miss Sunday's game with a foot injury and Toby Gerhart hampered with a hamstring injury, there may be much more of an onus on the passing game to take over the offense. However, Jennings doesn't think the offensive flow of the game will change significantly whether Peterson, Gerhart of Matt Asiata is at the running back position.

"We are who we are," Jennings said. "We're still going to run the ball, that's who we are. We're definitely going to try to throw the ball, but changing who we are and how we approach the game, I don't see that happening."

Jennings' first season with the Vikings hasn't been what he had hoped or expected. They have struggled to win games and maintain leads late in the game.

While teams like Washington have been accused of packing it in and losing the locker room under head coach Mike Shanahan, the Vikings aren't in that same boat. They're struggling for sure, but the locker room has remained unified and will be looking to finish strong – those players and coaches that will be back next season and those that won't.

"I think that you would see no fight in the guys within this locker room," Jennings said. "The one thing I can say about guys in this locker room is we stick together like glue. No matter what the outcome has been, we fought. Last week after the game, hard loss – some would say it's a devastating loss. The vibe in the locker room amongst the guys that fought throughout that game, it wasn't like, ‘Oh, my gosh.' It was more like, ‘Man, that one got away.' No matter what the outcome, we all take ownership in a loss or win."


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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