EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Greg Jennings brings a wealth of NFL experience and knowledge with him to the Minnesota Vikings, with 425 catches and 53 touchdown receptions in his seven-year career.
Coming over from the rival Green Bay Packers, Jennings is expected to become the true No. 1, star receiver some feel Minnesota was lacking, even with Percy Harvin around the past three years. Jennings, who will turn 30 in September, will likely become the top target for quarterback Christian Ponder, but his impact on the Vikings will involve much more than the numbers he produces on the field.
Ever since Minnesota made the move to draft the talented but raw Cordarrelle Patterson in the first round, the team’s leadership has talked about having a plan for how to develop the 22-year-old, 6-foot-2 versatile receiver. The potential in Patterson jumps out on tape. The Vikings, and Patterson, have to fulfill the potential.
Enter Jennings, who general manager Rick Spielman and coach Leslie Frazier identified immediately as the positive influence Patterson will need to learn and succeed in the NFL.
The mentorship has, essentially, begun. And for Jennings, it’s not a one-way lesson.
“Just being there every day, being there and answering any questions he may have,” Jennings said recently about how he can assist Patterson. “Making sure it’s not all criticism and being constructive about it but at the same time letting him know when he’s doing things right and letting him know that I’m watching him so I can get better as well. So it’s not just a one-way street. I’m not just watching him to tell him what he can do better. I’m watching him to see what I can add to my game.”
Jennings is a two-time Pro Bowl player and is trying to prove once again he’s still an elite receiver after leaving Green Bay following an injury-marred yaer. Patterson will be trying to demonstrate he has what it takes to develop into one of the league’s best with his ability to affect a game in many ways.
So Jennings tries to help Patterson, knowing they can help each other.
“He’s working hard,” Jennings said. “He’s getting better every day. Again, that’s all you can ask for a young guy coming in. I don’t really care for calling him a rookie because he’s going to have to grow up pretty fast. He’s going to be a playmaker on this team, and we need him to be a playmaker as soon as possible.”
Patterson is trying to do his part and soak up knowledge from the veteran. He’s trying to learn from everyone, but there’s no doubting who he is taking most of his lessons from. Asked recently at organized team activities who has been the most helpful, Patterson said Jennings, “Most definitely.”
“It’s good to have someone that is willing to help you out when you need him,” Patterson said. “On and off the field, I respect him. He gives me all he’s got and I’m going to give him all I’ve got.”
The relationship between the two, and Patterson’s growth, is one of the most important offseason developments for Minnesota’s offense.
Even in OTAs, Patterson’s skills are evident. During one practice open to media, Patterson showed good hands pulling down a pass between defenders. He has great speed, and his open-field running was one of his strengths at Tennessee last year in his one season of major college football.
“You definitely can see the talent that’s there,” Jennings said. “It’s raw; you can tell that he’s a guy that’s been just gifted — gifted and better than most that he’s gone up against. But that’s the physical gifts of what he holds — his skill set is definitely there.”
Minnesota believes stability — Patterson played at a junior college before his one year at Tennessee — will help his development. The coaches want to find multiple ways to get the ball in Patterson’s hands, even as a kick returner, but Frazier has also spoken of letting Patterson settle in at split end and giving him time to learn the basics of the position. Patterson has already noted the playbook is bigger than what he was used to at Tennessee.
The Vikings may eventually need to manufacture ways to get the ball in Patterson’s hands because his route running needs refinement. Of course, one of Jennings’ strengths is his route running.
Jennings credits the precision in his routes to his college coach, George McDonald, who would always tell Jennings “detail your work.”
“Anything I did was never good enough,” Jennings said. “He created a mindset that I was never satisfied, and I felt like I had a pretty decent work ethic. But when you hear someone constantly, not rip you or jump on you, simply say detail, details, details, details, it consciously, you become cognizant of everything that you’re doing, so I’ve tried to share that, just those little snippets with CP now.
“All eyes are on you. I’m watching you. I’m watching you. So he knows somebody’s looking at him. I got to make this perfect, or get it as close to perfect as possible. It’s not always going to be perfect. I’m not perfect. Nobody in this organization’s perfect. It’s never going to happen to where we’re all perfect. It’s just not going to happen. But if we all get as close to perfection as possible, then that’s when special things happen.”