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Updated: June 19th, 2013 8:19pm
Zulgad: Greg Jennings has embraced role of serving as mentor to rookie

Zulgad: Greg Jennings has embraced role of serving as mentor to rookie

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings hadn't even swung their draft-night deal with the New England Patriots that landed them Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson last April when wide receivers coach George Stewart approached veteran Greg Jennings about serving in a mentor role.

"Coach Stew came to me and said, 'Greg, we're looking to get this guy and there are some things that they say about him. That is why we have you here. I need you to take this guy under your wing and show him the ropes and bring him up to speed,'" Jennings said Wednesday after the Vikings completed the second day of their three-day minicamp at Winter Park.

Jennings, who had left the Packers as a free agent in March to sign a five-year, $45 million contract with the Vikings that includes $17.8 million in guarantees, immediately figured that Patterson was some type of project or came with baggage. Fair or not, Patterson had been labeled by some as being on the immature side.

Jennings quickly learned otherwise.

"He gets here, I look at him, we work and I'm like, 'What are they talking about?'" Jennings said. "This kid is ready to work. No one knows the work adjustment that you have to make until you actually are in the work environment.

"For him it was just getting acclimated and accustomed to the professional realm of how we work and starting to do that. He's picked up the plays. Everybody is going to make mistakes from time to time. I don't care how long you're in this game. You're going to make mistakes.

"You're going to drop balls. .. But he's done everything right. He's willing to work, he's willing to put in the time and he's out here and he's getting better every single day. He makes it easy for a guy like myself because he makes me look good. Like, I'm telling him all the right things."

If the Vikings are going to see improvement from a passing game that finished second-to-last in the NFL last season, they must get more consistent play from quarterback Christian Ponder and also more from their wide receivers.

The Vikings leading receiver last season was Percy Harvin, who caught 62 passes for 677 yards with three touchdowns in nine games, but was traded to Seattle in March after making it clear he wanted out of Minnesota.

Jennings will be expected to rebound from an injury-plagued 2012 season in Green Bay to become one of Ponder's favorite targets and the Vikings' hope is that Patterson can overcome inexperience - he spent only one season at Tennessee after playing in junior college - to turn into a consistent vertical threat.

Among the things Patterson must do is learn to develop himself into an NFL route runner. This is where Jennings' seven years of NFL experience come into play. He knows all the little details that Patterson is just learning.

"Greg is a super leader in (the classroom) and really for our whole offense," Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. "Cordarrelle I know is taking a bunch of notes both in the meeting room and on the field with relation to how Greg does it."

But Jennings acknowledged his relationship with Patterson isn't all about the rookie learning from the veteran. Jennings, a second-round pick by the Packers in 2006 out of Western Michigan, also is picking up some things by watching Patterson.

"The way he's made the progression. He's made it easy," said Jennings, who began working on the field with Patterson during Organized Team Activities. "You get a young guy who's willing to work, who's willing to sponge, they actually work at their craft. They make it so much easier. You see a guy like that who's working hard, you see him getting better week in and week out, you see him making those jumps. It makes you feel good.

"But then at the same time, it's like, 'OK, I've got to add some of what he's doing into my game.' Kind of sponge of off what he has, too. It's been a give-and-take relationship. ... He's watching me and I'm watching him because when he comes off I'm like, 'So, show me that again.' We talk a lot and he's a fun kid to be around. He's got a great personality, which always makes it easy."

Jennings, 29, said because Patterson is a bigger receiver (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) he has emphasized to the rookie that he needs to get lower.

"He has the speed," said Jennings, who is 6-feet, 195 pounds. "Once he gets the ball in his hands it's over. If you start seeing the back of his jersey you might as well stop running. The one thing that I did notice out of the gate was he's a taller guy, so he has to get lower in his breaks and getting in and out of his cuts. He's worked on it, he's improved over this four week period and I'm excited to see him actually on the game field."

So what has Jennings seen from Patterson that he would like to emulate?

The first is Patterson's speed, but obviously that isn't possible. The second thing Jennings has picked up is something that can be copied.

"I told him the one thing I noticed in his route running (is that) he has that definitive step at the top," Jennings said. "I remember coming out (of college) I had that definitive step and that kind of gets washed out because everything they teach you (in the NFL) is they want everything to look the same.

"So that definitive step starts to kind of fade away. But that's what creates that separation. I just told him, 'Do not lose that,' because the more I see him do that the more I remember when I used to do that and create even more separation. I'm starting to creep that back in."

The interesting thing is that Jennings' suggestion that Patterson not lose that definitive step at the top of his route running isn't something a coach probably would suggest.

"Most coaches tell you, 'We don't need all that extra,'" Jennings said. "Sometimes what makes a player what he is are the things that we try to take away. It comes naturally, that's a gift. You can't really teach that and he has it. I remember coming out that was me. I was sticking everything and they were like, 'We just want to round it. We just want to round it.' Slowly but surely I started rounding everything. The route still looks good but it just doesn't have that crispness about it."

Meanwhile, Jennings said he is enjoying making the move from Green Bay to Minnesota. He admits it's taken some adjustment to pick up the language the Vikings use on offense but said he is "excited" about the future.

"It feels good. The purple actually looks better on my skin color," Jennings said with a laugh. "That's just a personal preference. But, no, it's great. I'm embracing the change, I'm excited about the change. I wanted the change and change is here. So I have a new organization, new teammates. They've embraced me, I'm embracing them and embracing the opportunity." 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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