EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Greg Jennings had just finished up a workout as part of the Minnesota Vikings offseason conditioning program last week when reporters gathered around Minnesota’s new receiver and asked Jennings if seeing “Vikings” spelled out across his shirt was a strange sight.
Jennings looked down at the “Vikings” across his chest and seemed like he hadn’t pondered the question before.
“No, it doesn’t,” Jennings said “Actually it looks really good. . . . It fits really nicely.”
Surely Jennings had thought about donning the purple uniform when he signed a five-year, $45 million contract with Minnesota in March. But this was Jennings first show to the public in the colors and lettering of his new team. After seven years with the Green Bay Packers, it would be natural for the wording to take some getting used to.
There have been some changes Jennings wasn’t prepared for — such as, he says, the higher cost of living in the Twin Cities — but the veteran receiver expected to replace Percy Harvin’s production and be the leader for a young receiving corps is fitting right in with his new teammates.
“The big thing with Greg, who’s obviously a great player, is he also provides that leadership,” quarterback Christian Ponder said. “I think he’s a true pro. He can show these young guys what it takes in this league. I think we have a good dynamic. Everyone has come and shown up to work. It will be good to get these rookies in this weekend. The dynamic has changed, but I think it’s good.”
The two-time Pro Bowler has had an accomplished career in Green Bay, with four years of at least 67 catches in his seven seasons. Minnesota wanted, needed, a leader for a group of young receivers, especially after trading Harvin to Seattle five days before signing Jennings.
Jennings doesn’t come to the Vikings without a bit to prove of his own though. He turned down an extension with the Packers, eventually testing free agency and signing a deal with Minnesota. He’s coming off an injury-plagued 2012 season in which he only played eight games with Green Bay and fell out of favor as the Packers’ potent passing attack continued with their younger options.
Now, after a career low last year, Jennings is adapting to his surroundings and working to put last season firmly in the past.
“I’m excited about the change, Jennings said. “My family’s excited about it. That’s what makes it even easier. We were ready for change. We were excited about it and being in a bigger city is a little exciting, a little different.”
Jennings was present for the Vikings’ voluntary workouts last week. He’s trying to get on the same page with Ponder as the receivers and quarterbacks do a little passing and catching after practices.
“Obviously, it’s new, so getting the terminology as far as a plays standpoint, seeing how he throws the ball, what he likes to do when he’s throwing the ball, how he likes to throw the ball, different things like that,” Jennings said. “Little things that may not seem important, but are very important; timing of certain routes. Some routes aren’t all about timing, some are. It’s working those routes that are timing-based are most important. Everything else kind of comes.”
He’s also getting to know the younger receivers, such as Jarius Wright, Greg Childs, Stephen Burton and Chris Summers. His mentorship will be especially important with rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, who the Vikings’ traded up to select in the first round of the draft.
Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman called Jennings “a true pro’s pro” and someone who will be looked to, to help develop Patterson, who is talented, but considered raw with only one year of major college experience.
“Absolutely, that’s what a good vet does,” Jennings said of taking Patterson under his wing. “I had good vets in front of me. So, I expect to do nothing but that.”
Jennings added: “That’s part of the deal. I’m one of the older guys on the team, definitely in our unit room with the wide receivers. I’m going to be a leader. That’s why they brought me here, to develop the young guys and obviously to produce on the field. But I’m excited about the young talent. I’m excited about what the future holds in the upcoming year.”
Patterson, on his first day in Minnesota after being selected said he’s ready to learn from Jennings.
“I’m ready to sit beside him from Day 1, sit with him and be his wingman, learn everything,” Patterson said.
The Vikings are counting on it. Jennings said the two have corresponded by texts, but as of last week they hadn’t had the chance to talk. Patterson took part in last weekend’s rookie minicamp and will soon be able to join Jennings on the field.
Patterson should be ready to work.
“Obviously, I’m excited to work with him,” Jennings said. “I hope he’s ready to work. I hope he’s ready to jump right in. I’m not a fan of treating a rookie like a rookie. It’s all about the guy who knows the least, getting him up to speed just as quick as the guy who knows the most in the room. So that’s the mindset I’m taking, hopefully that’s his approach.”
Even Jerome Simpson, who at 27-years-old is two years younger than Jennings, said he can learn from Jennings.
“He’s been in the league a couple more years than me so I can learn a lot from him, from his knowledge,” Simpson said. “Just learning how to be more professional and perfecting our craft.”
Together, Jennings, Simpson, Patterson and the other receivers hope to give Minnesota the passing attack it has needed to evaluate Ponder and complement the running game with MVP Adrian Peterson.
“We’re young, but all the guys in that room are ready to work and ready to get better,” Jennings said. “That’s the mindset we have to take. That’s my mindset each and every year. It will never change. I don’t think that I have every answer. I don’t think that I will ever have every answer. But as long as I’m willing to progress and enhance the skill set that I have, then you can do nothing but climb that ladder. And I think that’s the mindset of that room is just learning how to be a pro and learning how to go about our business and being productive when we’re doing it.”