As the potential suspensions of Pat Williams and Kevin Williams hung over the heads of the Vikings franchise last year, the team went out and signed Jimmy Kennedy, who had recently been released by the Jacksonville Jaguars. A former first-round pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2003 – the same year the Vikings made a splash by botching a trade that allowed the clock to run out before eventually taking Kevin Williams – Kennedy was the third defensive tackle taken in the draft, behind Dwayne Robertson of the Jets and Williams.
What followed was a tumultuous NFL career in which the Rams went through three head coaches, three defensive coordinators and three defensive line coaches in four years. There was never the chance for growth because of the constant lack on continuity in coaching philosophy. In fact, the offseason leading into the 2009 season was the first time in a long time Kennedy was returning to the same system and the same coaches. He says having seven different sets of head coaches, coordinators and position coaches over the last seven years has made a world of difference in his career.
"I think it's the difference between my career and Kevin Williams' career when you look at it like that," Kennedy said. "I was drafted right after him. (I was) learning a new system every year and not getting comfortable. This game is based off of confidence and stability. The more you know in terms of the defense, the faster you're able to play. I went to different styles of playing and techniques (every year). Last year I learned how to run (my role in the defense) and came into the offseason knowing what I had to work on."
The Vikings were able to pluck Kennedy off the street as a free agent last year, primarily because he had the word "bust" associated with him. In NFL terms, a bust is a first-round draft pick that never lives up to expectations – a word someone should use carefully around Kennedy, who wondered aloud what the factors on in determining whether a player has talent that hasn't been tapped into or just doesn't have talent.
"It's always bugged me about the bust tag," Kennedy said. "Who hands that out?"
The fact he is even with the Vikings is ironic, if not a shocker. In 2003, the Vikings were pretty secretive about their draft plans and who they were bringing in for visits. After the draft Mike Tice said they intentionally concealed their interest in Williams, yet made a public display of showing Kennedy – who hindsight tells us they no intention of drafting – touring the Winter Park facility.
The Vikings had no plans to draft Kennedy, which may have been a good thing. Kennedy sensed there wasn't as much interest as there should be and the vibe was bad. After his visit, Kennedy had no interest in being drafted by the Vikings.
"When they brought me in, they didn't show me any love," Kennedy said. "It was a smoke screen and, on top of that, I didn't want to come here. Truth be told, when my agent called me last year and told me he wanted me to come to Minnesota, I told him ‘hell no.' Honestly, I just felt that this wasn't the place for me – that God didn't want me here. Boy was I wrong."
His rationale for not wanting the Vikings had some valid reasons and some that were simply the result of being young and talented. His feelings for the Vikings were bad all the way down to their colors, which somehow envisioned would having him likened to PBS children's show dinosaur.
"When I was coming out in the draft, I was telling my agent, ‘I don't want to be wearing no purple,'" Kennedy said. "I'm already big. They're going to be calling me Barney. I can't do this."
His ill feelings toward the organization hadn't thawed much by the time he was contacted last year. Despite being out of work after being released by the Jaguars, the prospect of coming to Minnesota still seemed distasteful to him. Not only did he have the bad experience from pre-draft 2003, he wanted a chance to start somewhere and knew that, with Kevin and Pat Williams as the starters, that wasn't going to happen with the Vikings. But, with the prodding of his agent, he agreed to come – a decision he is grateful now that he made then.
"Now it's like a blessing in disguise for me," Kennedy said. "I am literally on the phone talking to family and saying, ‘Minnesota's trying to sign me. My God. I can't believe it.' Getting released from Jacksonville, I couldn't believe it. Minnesota (turned out to be) a pleasant surprise."
Kennedy's role with the team has increased this season as he has become more comfortable with the system and, despite playing in a rotation, he has recorded two sacks in a reserve role. He said the decision to come to Minnesota has been one of the best of his career and, even though he is a role player rather than a star, he realizes his job is help the team be successful.
"You realize the ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl," Kennedy said. "If I'm able to go out there and be part of a three-, four- or five-man rotation, whatever the case may be, I'll do what I have to help the team win."
Kennedy: Vikings ‘a blessing in disguise'
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