Friday, June 20, 2014
Jennings, Cassel have formed a bond
By Ben Goessling
MINNEAPOLIS -- The day Matt Cassel signed his first contract with the Minnesota Vikings, Greg Jennings had just arrived in town on a free-agent visit. The two had never played together before, and didn't know each other much, but Cassel introduced himself to the former Green Bay Packers receiver, telling him he hoped they'd get a chance to team up in Minnesota.
It hardly seemed at the time like Cassel would be the next quarterback to connect with Jennings after Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, but a year after the two signed with the Vikings, Cassel and Jennings have clicked. The two married fathers, on one of the league's youngest teams, have bonded off the field over shared experiences, and they've developed a trust on it that was born out of a mutual respect for the other's work habits. Jennings tallied 489 receiving yards and caught all four of his touchdown passes from Cassel, who started six games; had Cassel been starting the entire season, Jennings might have had a Pro Bowl year instead of an underwhelming start to his time in Minnesota.
Now, in the former backup quarterback, Jennings has found an unlikely partner.
"When he first got here, he always took the approach as though he was the starter," Jennings said this week in a wide-ranging interview. "Matt Flynn was the same way (in Green Bay); Aaron was the same way. They prepared, they prepped, as though they were going to start, as though, 'Anything can happen; I'm ready.' And that was Matt (Cassel). Even the day of the game, he prepared as though he was going out and taking the first snap. In practice, we kind of saw things the same. Our communication was instant."
That connection seems even more unique in light of the fact both came to Minnesota planning on a different set of circumstances; Cassel had been told when he arrived that the starting job belonged to Christian Ponder, and Jennings signed his five-year, $45 million deal with the Vikings knowing that his time with the team would at least start with Ponder at quarterback.
Jennings spent much of his time before last season working with Ponder, but the two never found a rhythm on the field; the receiver caught just 24 of his 68 passes from Ponder, despite playing eight games that Ponder started, and only had 274 yards. "Both quarterbacks had different ways they saw the game, which is why you saw Matt and I have success," Jennings said. "Christian and I, not that we didn't have success, but his safety net was more of the checkdown. Matt, being in an offense where he's been able to move the ball and have success in New England and Kansas City, he understands that in order to win games, you've got to move the ball down the field."
It's possible Jennings will be working with Teddy Bridgewater instead of Cassel in the not-too-distant future; the receiver has spoken highly of Bridgewater's work so far, and Bridgewater will get a chance to win a competition for the starting job in training camp. But Cassel took many of the first-team snaps during the Vikings' mandatory minicamp, and once again, he and Jennings looked to be in sync.
"I told Matt today, 'Hey, look, (in) no-huddle, when in doubt, I got you,'" Jennings said. "He knew what he was thinking was very similar and in tune with what I was thinking."