We kick off this year’s “Blog Bits” with an exclusive sit-down with running back Rashad Jennings, who signed a four-year deal worth a reported $14 million in March with the Giants.
Jennings, who started his college career at Pittsburgh before finishing at Liberty, was drafted in the seventh round draft pick in 2009 (No. 250th overall) by Jacksonville, for whom he played three seasons.
Last year, he posted his best numbers as a member of the Oakland Raiders, rushing 163 times for 733 yards and six touchdowns in 15 games. In his career, he has played in 53 games and has run 387 times for 1,677 times for 13 touchdowns.
As a receiver, Jennings has 97 catches (out of 124 targets) for 746 yards and no touchdowns. He has also returned 13 kickoffs for 297 yards in two of his three seasons as a member of the Jaguars.
Jennings, who is in the process of re-launching his official website, projects to be the starting running back for the Giants.
During the spring, he was used a great deal running screen passes out of the backfield. So far, he’s caught the eye of the coaching staff in a positive way with his work ethic and his attention to detail when it comes to preparing for the game.
“Rashad Jennings (is) someone I have a tremendous amount of respect for,” said offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo.
“He came in, he shows up and he’s ready to work every day. I think he has a nice skill set for the position. I think he’s a young man who is very focused in the way that he goes about his business and I look forward to seeing him grow this year.”
Jennings is also a very deep thinker who has a unique perspective about how he feels the need to approach the game to be successful.
Regardless of the topic of discussion, after spending just a few minutes with Jennings, it becomes quickly obvious that he’s an intellect who seeks to gain a broader perspective of the world around him.
In this first of two parts, Jennings provides some philosophical insights about his approach to his job.
Q: I read with interest the article about your “dork diet” and “geek streak” and I came away with the impression that you’re a cerebral type. Am I right that this is the approach you take in your quest to find success as an NFL running back?
A: Yeah, I do. There’s an art to the game and you can look at it as an artist. You’re sculpting and weaving with the craft on the field. It’s awareness and fluidity of the game.
It’s not just pound, pound, pound. There’s footwork, and a lot of details that goes into someone just getting the football and running. There’s a lot of detail in understanding where you fit in pass protection, which is a chess match in itself. Every player should try to become an offensive coordinator on the field. The more you know about the game, the easier it is to fit your identity into the fabric.
Q: So how have you fit your identity into the game?
A: I study my movements and I study opponents’ movements. I see everyone’s strengths and weaknesses and I use it to move the chains.
Q: As a student of the game, I suspect the nonverbal communication comes easier to you as well, right?
A. Well, you have to understand matchups and personnel. A lot of people say you really have to understand which offensive lineman has the best percentage of chance to win his matchup any given week vs. another player stalemating. That’s going to let you know where the hole will be. It’s not necessarily that you have to blow somebody up every single play. You just need to find out what kind of player they are and what kind of consistency that you think they’re going to give you.
Regarding nonverbal communication, you can tell a lot by body language, you can tell a lot by right hand, left hand, and chemistry of the team. Every time I’ve been in the huddle, I’m studying myself, I’m studying players–how they think, how to motivate them and how to get the best out of them to make it all sync up on the field.
Think of it this way. In every job you have to manage personalities. You have to try to pull the best out of everyone in the huddle. With me, I’m consistent in treating everyone differently. It’s a fit with what they need to pull the best of them. That comes with chemistry.
Q: Let’s talk about this offense. What is it about this system that you think is going to put you in a position to be successful?
A: The chance to be a complete back. I’ve always chased the quest to be a complete back and I put more onus on myself than anyone else can. I’m accountable to something higher. So being a complete back, being able to catch out of the backfield, being able to pass protect, being able to run the ball and adjust on the run, being able to be the back on third-and-one or third-and seven, fourth-and-goal…never having to come out of the game, no matter what the situation is.
That’s something I strive to be and I think within this offense, a complete back is fitting. Being able to get those ugly four yards or being able to pop one for 80 yards. That’s something every offense needs out of the backfield.
Q: When you strive to be complete back, is there a danger of becoming a jack-of-all trades, master-of-none?
A: If you are a jack-of-all-trades, then you are a master of something. Mastering the craft is so broad for a running back. You have to be able to block like an offensive lineman, you have to be able to catch like a receiver, you have to be able to see the field like a quarterback, and you have to be agile like a running back. Like I said, be complete.
Q: Let’s change it up just a bit. What’s something that most people might be surprised to know about you?
A: My running backs coach here (Craig Johnson) was actually the coach at VMI (Virginia Military Institute, 1989-91) when my brother (Butch) was in college. (Author’s note: Butch Jennings was once a member of the Giants.) So he coached my brother in college.
It’s funny; when I first came here, Coach Johnson said when he saw the last name Jennings, he was like, ‘Nah, that’s not that little kid I used to see.’ It’s a small world, isn’t it?
In the second and last part of my exclusive interview with Jennings, which will run tomorrow, he talks about leadership and why he doesn’t view himself as a leader, even though he appears to have become the most prominent voice in the running backs’ meeting room.