Thursday, July 25, 2013

Greg Jennings Showing Sensitive Side

The Star Tribune's Dan Wiederer has a great feature on new Vikings and former Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings in Thursday's editions.

Jennings has taken some veiled shots at the Packers -- most notably quarterback Aaron Rodgers -- since leaving Green Bay. He's talked of his desire to be a true No. 1 receiver, something that wasn't going to happen in Green Bay, where the offense is designed to spread the ball around.

In Thursday's story, the veil is removed. And in doing so, Jennings shows some sensitivity.

It's funny, because people -- including your humble correspondent -- have ribbed Rodgers for his well-known sensitivity. He's not the only elite athlete to do this, but Rodgers seems to feed off even the slightest of slights.

If Rodgers feeds off some of the stuff he admits to, I can only imagine what he can do with Jennings' comments. Let's cue up Wiederer here.

Jennings isn’t sure enough outsiders remember that during Rodgers’ first year as a starter in 2008, he was the quarterback’s top target, catching 80 passes for 1,292 yards with nine TDs. Or that he continued to aid Rodgers’ ascension with more than 2,300 receiving yards and 16 scores over the following two seasons.

“I was kind of that comfort blanket so to speak,” Jennings said. “But this is a quarterback-driven league, so people forget about the guys around the quarterback.”

Jennings wanted his abilities appreciated. So in his final months with the Packers, he started thinking more about what was next.

“Maybe,” he said, “I need to go back to my college days where the quarterback wasn’t just viewed as oh-so-great and still prove that I can be successful.”

If Jennings hadn’t tired of Rodgers specifically, he certainly had his fill of the environment in Green Bay, wondering if the ubiquitous Rodgers lovefest had created a narrative that de-emphasized the strength of the group.

Throughout this offseason, Jennings has subtly jabbed Rodgers, rarely calling him by name and referring to him instead as “12” or “the guy they have now.”

“A lot of times when you have a guy who creates that spotlight for himself and establishes that and takes a lot of that, it becomes so-and-so and the team,” he said. “It should always be the team.”

Asked in a later conversation to clarify those sentiments, Jennings expanded.

“For me, I’m such a team person, I’m going to defer to my teammates,” he said. “I’m going to defer to the team, to the team, to the team. And I think when you reach a point where you’re not deferring any longer, it’s no longer really about the team.”

Jennings paused and looked around.

“Don’t get me wrong, ‘12’ is a great person. But when you hear all positives, all positives, all positives all the time, it’s hard for you to sit down when one of your teammates says ‘Man, come on, you’ve got to hold yourself accountable for this.’ It’s hard for someone to see that now because all they’ve heard is I’m doing it the right way, I’m perfect. In actuality, we all have flaws.”

Lots to chew on here. We'll start on top.

First part of his jives with his interview on KFAN with Paul Allen shortly after signing with Minnesota. Jennings talked there about wanting to prove he can be a No. 1 receiver, but he wasn't going to get that chance in Green Bay. Not only do the Packers not really employ a No. 1 receiver, the offense is designed to make everyone look like a No. 1 receiver, at least on occasion.

Then we get a little more interesting.

In this excerpt, Jennings basically calls Rodgers a glory hog. It was the same thing people said about Favre, oddly enough. Favre got all the accolades and attention in Green Bay, too. Actually, if you look around, Tom Brady gets most of the attention in New England, Peyton Manning in Denver, and the same is true for Drew Brees in New Orleans.

Good thing Jennings didn't play for Seattle. He probably would have walked out in November, what with all the love Russell Wilson was getting.

Jennings is a hell of a player, and while this interview is going to tick off some Packers fans (and maybe some Packers, too), Jennings is an honest dude who is going to put everything he has into making his new team -- and Christian Ponder -- better. Unfortunately, part of the price of being honest is something like this, where you show more about yourself than maybe you intended.

People rip and tweak Rodgers for being sensitive. But Rodgers has nothing on Jennings, who comes across in this story as caring way too much about the perception of him as a football player. The fact the quarterback gets a ton of the credit for a team's success is nothing new in the NFL. And Jennings hasn't at all escaped it by signing with the Vikings.

Ponder has a ton of pressure on him this season. I firmly believe that, for Minnesota to return to the playoffs, Ponder has to have a very good and consistent season. Adrian Peterson is the best player in the NFL, but he can't do all of this by himself. Ponder and Jennings are charged with improving Minnesota's biggest offensive weakness: the passing game.

And if that passing game improves, who is going to get the credit?


I wonder how that will make Jennings feel.

Actually, thanks to Wiederer's work, I already have a good idea what the answer is. Of course, we won't find out until Jennings (or Ponder, I guess) leaves the Vikings.

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