Thursday, September 26, 2013
Jennings handling surprisingly small role
By Ben Goessling
WATFORD, England -- One of the more impressive moments of Greg Jennings' season so far, at least in the eyes of coach Leslie Frazier, came after Jennings had three catches for 33 yards in the Vikings' season-opening loss in Detroit.
Jennings was in Frazier's office after the game, rehashing the 34-24 loss to the Lions, which came in spite of a breakout performance from receiver Jerome Simpson, who caught seven passes for 140 yards that day.
Greg Jennings has gotten off to a modest start, with 11 receptions for 160 yards and no scores through three games.
“He was in my office after the Detroit game, first game of the season, and we were talking,” Frazier said. “[Jennings told me],'There was a moment in the game where I said, ‘Man, I wouldn’t mind if I got this play called or that play called for myself.’ And then I thought about it, and I said, ‘I’m happy for Jerome. This is good for our team.’ That’s unique, for a guy who has achieved what he has achieved, and you sign a contract to come here. He wants his teammates to succeed, but ultimately, he wants the team to succeed.”
For a receiver who signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract with the Vikings in March with expectations he'd be the top passing threat, the first three games have been a bit humbling for Jennings. He's got a modest 11 catches for 160 yards, and has only been targeted with 17 passes in the Vikings' first three games -- four fewer targets than he got in his first three games with the Green Bay Packers last year.
As we've discussed somewhat, Jennings did his best work in Green Bay on back-shoulder throws, seam routes and crossing routes, which require a bit more precision and confidence from his quarterback than we've seen from Ponder so far. Ponder found him in a soft spot in the Browns' zone defense last week, but part of the reason things have worked with Simpson might be that Ponder has more confidence in his ability to throw deep -- which doesn't demand that a quarterback be quite as precise -- than he does in his ability to fit the ball in tight windows. According to Pro Football Focus, Jennings has gained his most yards on throws over the middle in each season from 2008 to 2012. This year, he's actually been more productive outside the numbers, and Ponder has only targeted him four times on throws between the numbers of less than 10 yards, which was where Jennings thrived in Green Bay.
For you Packers fans in the audience, some of this might feel like Jennings getting his comeuppance after he tossed barbs at Aaron Rodgers through the spring and summer. But while that part of Jennings' transition to the Vikings has bugged Frazier, the coach called Jennings "the ultimate team guy" on Thursday, and made an interesting comment when the Star Tribune's Mark Craig asked him about how Jennings compares to other receivers he's coached.
"His personality is one where, he's not the typical superstar and he wants it to be about him," Frazier said. "A lot of wide receivers -- you've covered them, Mark -- they really like things to go through them. That can be a high-maintenance group."
Anyway, Jennings was similarly introspective when recalling his conversation with Frazier on Thursday, talking about how pride can be corrosive to a team and how he needed to guard against it. Maybe he thought that was an issue for himself, or Rodgers, or someone else in Green Bay, or maybe he's just saying the right things now.
We'll see where things go from here -- Jennings made an interesting comment on Thursday about Matt Cassel being more assertive than Ponder in the huddle, but attributed that to Cassel having more experience, and he's stuck by Ponder so far. What's clear so far, though, is that Frazier is happy with how Jennings is finding ways to help the receiver group at the moment, even if he's not posting huge numbers in the Vikings' offense.