It was the NFL.com’s Adam Rank who wrote that Greg Jennings, the latest beloved star-turned-Benedict Arnold following a free agent move from the popular Green Bay Packers to the not always popular Minnesota Vikings, was a scary player that could be a bust of a signing. Not only that, Rank went as far as to write that Jennings has already made plans for a second life after a soon-to-occur dramatic demise from football.
I could see Mike Wallace (or Wes Welker, if he’s let go) signing with a rival to play with a chip on his shoulder. However, after watching Jennings dominate in those Old Spice ads, I’m not convinced he hasn’t already started to make plans for a life after football. Especially since he had a nice cameo on “Criminal Minds.” So I expect a team like the Dolphins to make a bid on Jennings, probably overpay — because that’s what the Dolphins do — and wind up disappointed.
Rank’s comments were one of many, some of which were perhaps written this offseason from anger-filled Packers fans themselves, and they’re surely going to be deemed premature. Why? Because if the final weeks of the Packers’ season showed anything, it was that Jennings’ tank is not on the proverbial “E”, and he has more than enough gas to keep him running in 2013 and beyond.
Jennings goes to the Vikings, where he’ll be used as a short-to-middle of the field receiving option who can win inside and outside the numbers, which is what will help prolong his career and it’s exactly the kind of versatility the team needs. He’ll also bring excellent route-running, something the Vikings have sorely lacked in recent years, and one thing that will enable him to be open more frequently than other (recent past and present) Vikings receivers.
Jennings has always been one of the league’s best route runners because of his fluid movements, lateral quickness, and pad level. His arms sway back and forth with grace when developing his routes, and he beats defenders at the line of scrimmage and at the top of his route with quick feet and a low pad level.
The latter two traits are particularly impressive because they are significant, yet unappreciated in the art of route-running. For Jennings, they’re a big reason why he’s been able to get open so frequently, even though he didn’t always have the ball thrown his way. Here are two examples of exactly that happening (or not happening).
It was the night of the NFC Divisional Round. The Packers were playing the San Francisco 49ers, and Jennings would haul in six catches for 54 yards and a touchdown. Nearly half of the yards would come on one play, but a play where he didn’t catch the ball at all stood out the most.
He was lined up to the wide side of the field in Packers territory and was matched up one-on-one with a 49ers cornerback. When the play began, he released to the right of the line of scrimmage with a strong jab of the right foot that made the defender slide over hard to the outside.
As the defender slid outside, Jennings dropped his shoulders parallel to the ground and swung them to his left, consequently shifting his weight in the opposite direction of the defender’s momentum.
The smooth transition from right to left made it easy for Jennings to burst into his downfield route and leave the defender tangled in the dust.
Another example of Jennings’ pad level and quickness ironically came against the Vikings a week earlier in the NFC Wildcard game. He was to the wide side of the field again and was working on a shallow crossing route across the Packers’ midfield logo. Prior to crossing it, however, he ran a vertical stem against the Vikings’ zone coverage and pressed the heels of the near cornerback.
He then raised his shoulders up as he stuck out his right foot, almost as if he was going to be performing a double move.
What he was really doing, though, is preparing to drop his pad level much like a motorcyclist sinking his shoulders when turning a corner. The dropping of his shoulders helped create separation from the defensive back and find a vacancy in the defense, which unfortunately went unnoticed.
Jennings’ route-running technique will be beneficial as he ages (he’ll be 30 in September) because he doesn’t necessarily rely on great speed to get open like a vertical speedster does, which means he’s also not expected to have a dramatic drop-off in production.
Moreover, what will help him continue to be a productive player is how the Vikings will use him. They will likely look to use him as a short to middle of the field option out of the slot and perimeter. By using him this way, he’ll be very quarterback-friendly to signal-caller Christian Ponder, who needs to step his game up, and prolong his football career much to the chagrin of his critics.