Top OTA challenge: QB-WR synchronization

Greg Jennings (Ed Mulholland/Getty)

An overhauled set of Vikings receivers has been working on timing with Christian Ponder, and that process will take another step forward over the next three weeks. Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson and Ponder talked about the process.

The Vikings will have a new middle linebacker and new left cornerback, but perhaps no position will see as much change from one year to the next as wide receiver.

The Vikings traded Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks and released Michael Jenkins in March.

Harvin played in 420 snaps in the first nine games of the season before an ankle injury ended his season, meaning he averaged 47 offensive snaps per game played. Jenkins played in 707 of the 1,035 snaps the Vikings offense took over 16 games, meaning he averaged 44 snaps per game.

Neither of those two is returning, and the only Vikings receiver from last year that even came close to averaging their playing time was Jerome Simpson, who averaged 38 snaps over his 12-game season. No other wide receiver averaged more than 30 snaps a game.

With organized team activities – essentially full practices without any contact – starting this week and running through mid-June, it will be essential for Christian Ponder to get accustomed to a revamped receiving corps that will feature free-agent acquisition Greg Jennings and first-round pick Cordarrelle Patterson.

"It's just repetition. It's not hard. They're workers just like I'm a worker. You put the time in and it will come," Jennings said during the first part of the offseason for players, the conditioning stage, where he and Ponder would stay for extra throwing and catching on the side.

"It's been great. 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. 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."

With the steady, reliable Jennings and intriguing Patterson as two of the top options, the offense might even see more diversity under coordinator Bill Musgrave.

"I'm sure Bill has stuff up his sleeve that we're going to do and utilize these guys. But, of course, it's a different team. We've got different guys on the team," Ponder said. "We got a lot of key pieces back with the offensive line and Adrian and Toby (Gerhart) and the other receivers. Some new faces that we're going to utilize every single piece of this offense and these weapons we have."

Simpson already met Jennings at the start of the offseason conditioning program and came away with a favorable impression of Jennings' work ethic.

Beyond that, Jennings is the only receiver with more NFL experience than Simpson, and the six-year veteran figures he might be able to learn something from the seven-year veteran who has 328 more receptions.

"I can learn a lot from him, from his knowledge, just learning how to be more professional and perfecting our craft," Simpson said.

Jennings said last month that his No. 1 goal was to learn the verbiage of the Vikings' playbook. By now, much of that has likely been put in front of him. This week is the beginning of putting that into practice with the full-team offense.

"I don't like to be one of those guys behind the eight-ball. I like to be ahead of the curve," Jennings said. "So, I want to know the knowledge up front, I want to know the verbiage up front, so that when I do come out here and put my talent on this floor, I'm not thinking, I'm just playing football. When you're thinking, you're playing a little slow. When you're just playing football, you can be who you are."

The timing of the routes will also be put into practice against defensive backs this week, which should help the Ponder-Jennings connections get started in earnest.

Simpson said the offense is going to change "because it's hard to get a guy like Percy and just duplicate him."

Still, Simpson figures Musgrave will take input from the players and be creative with the talents he, Jennings, Patterson and others provide.

"He will throw something in there that you suggest and that's what I really like about him. He's open-minded," Simpson said. "He doesn't think he's just the boss over everything and you can't tell him anything or you can suggest anything to him. That's what I really like about him because he's really open-minded."


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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