Jennings ‘had to shift mindset' with Vikings

Greg Jennings went through a big adjustment period with the Vikings, a team focused more on the run than the pass, and with a quarterback that didn't have the experience or production of Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers. Jennings talked in-depth about the change in attitude, the adjustment, and avoiding the "diva" tag.

When Greg Jennings came to the Vikings, it made big news because, not only was he coming over from division rival Green Bay, but he was coming in with the expectation that he would provide the passing offense with the big-play ability that had been the domain of Percy Harvin the previous three seasons.

He seemed like an odd choice because throughout his entire career he had only played with two quarterbacks – sure Hall of Famer Brett Favre and likely Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers. He knew coming to the Vikings was going to be a new experience for a veteran player because neither Christian Ponder nor Matt Cassel are every going to be compared to Favre or Rodgers.

Jennings learned early on that he was going to have to change how he played the game. The Vikings weren't the pass-happy offense that Green Bay has operated out of in recent years, where running the ball was often an afterthought. Adrian Peterson is the straw that stirs the drink in Minnesota and Jennings had to learn to adjust. While he wasn't frustrated with his lack of early production, he knew it was going to be a whole new ballgame in Minnesota.

"It didn't get to me," Jennings said. "I just had to shift my mindset to be more of a run blocker, because that's where we were having success at. That's what was going to get our offense rolling."

In his first three games with Christian Ponder at the helm, Jennings wasn't overly productive, catching 11 passes for 160 yards and no touchdowns. But when Cassel got the starting job for two weeks against Pittsburgh and Carolina, suddenly fans saw flashes of why the Vikings gave him a big free agent contract. He was getting targeted more and the results followed. In those two games, he caught nine passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns.

When Ponder got the job back following the debacle against the Giants, Jennings' production again dipped. In the next four games with Ponder as the quarterback, Jennings was targeted just 19 times, catching 12 passes for 190 yards and no touchdowns. In the three games the Cassel has led the Vikings offense, Jennings has been targeted 32 times, catching 23 passes for 294 yards and two touchdowns.

Ever the diplomat, Jennings expressed confidence in both of his quarterbacks, but admitted that things have been different for him with Cassel than with Ponder.

"It's just about opportunities – opportunities presenting themselves, getting more opportunities," Jennings said. "That's about it. (I'm) just trying to execute, do my part and play a role just like everyone else – just been given opportunities and been able to capitalize on them."

Jennings wasn't upset about the lack of big-play opportunities with Ponder, but it is clear from the targets and the production that Cassel and Jennings have been much more on the same page, which is how he defined the term "opportunities."

"There are always opportunities there, you just try to take advantage of them," Jennings said. "When you're dealing with quarterbacks, some quarterbacks see things differently. I've never played the position so I can't say what one quarterback sees versus what another quarterback sees. All I know is what I do never changes, and that's play receiver, run the routes and run block when I'm needed."

Jennings has been a team player since he arrived to Minnesota, but he was a little irked that he wasn't able to do more to help the team win. His role wasn't like it was in Green Bay, where he would run intermediate to deep routes consistently. In the Vikings offense, his job was just as often to take on a defender to shield him away from Peterson and let him do his thing.

"I think we all were a little frustrated with the performance overall," Jennings said of the Vikings' offensive struggles. Me personally, individually, I saw that my role, my mindset had to change, making sure that I was doing my job and not becoming a distraction at all. Embracing the run game even more, making sure that I did my part from that aspect of what we were trying to on the offensive side of the ball, and then letting everything else fall in place. I'm a team guy so whatever we can do that will produce wins, that's what I'm willing to do."

But it didn't come without some frustration along the way. Wide receiver is a unique position on a football team. A player can do everything right in practice and during games, but is never guaranteed to get the ball. If a defense is hell-bent to double team a player or design a scheme to bracket him, even Calvin Johnson can get shut down (or contained). Wide receivers are becoming among the biggest difference-makers in winning or losing games and Jennings was feeling a bit of an attitude issue himself when he came into games expecting to be an important piece in the offensive puzzle only to have three or four catches and less than 50 yards.

Wide receivers don't like those kinds of numbers and get frustrated. Catching passes is how they earn their money and if the ball isn't coming their way, they get upset. Some lash out. Some do a lot of talking, which is why receivers have picked up a rather unflattering, yet accepted, nickname to describe them.

"It's a challenge," Jennings said of not getting the ball as often as he would have liked. "That's why you get a lot of receivers that a lot of people tag us as divas. Because a lot of times the work that we put in, not to get a result, it can be frustrating for anyone. For a team that's lost as many games as we've lost, we put in a lot of work in practice not to get the production and have the success that we feel we deserve or that we're putting in on Wednesday, Thursdays and Fridays, it can be frustrating. But you have to keep rolling with the punches and right now we're having some success and that's where we are."

As a pair of veterans coming into a young team, Cassel and Jennings naturally gravitated toward one another due to, if nothing else, the shared experience of being veterans of the NFL wars. They struck up an immediate friendship during OTAs that has carried on into the season and translated itself onto the field.

"We talk a lot, whether he's playing or not," Jennings said. "I talk to him more than any other quarterback in the building, that's just the kind of relationship we had coming in. (Cassel is an) experienced guy, so he understands defenses, knows what they're trying to do, what they're trying to take away. I think that helps. But as far as having more success with Matt, it's just about taking advantage of the opportunities that you're given."

It's clear that Jennings has been much more productive with Cassel and that the two of them are tight off the field, which often happens with a quarterback and a go-to receiver. With all the questions swirling around about who will stay and who will go at the QB position in the offseason, one thing is certain: Jennings will be back with the Vikings in 2014, and if he has any say in it Cassel will still be on the roster, too.

"I would love to see Matt back," Jennings said. "He's a great guy. He's a great leader. He has a great feel of the locker room. I think guys rallied behind him. I would love to see Matt back."


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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