Greg Jennings celebrated his 29th birthday Friday, complete with celebratory graffiti on his Nissan Armada courtesy of his Green Bay Packers teammates and a night of family fun at home with wife Nicole and the couple’s three daughters.
The Green Bay Packers two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver can only hope turning 29 also means turning things around at work, because the most recent football portions of his 28th year of life didn’t exactly go too well.
“It’s been a rough start to the year for me,” Jennings said Friday, referring to the 2012 NFL season that has seen him miss two weeks of training camp with a concussion, catch only five passes for 34 yards before leaving the Sept. 9 regular-season opener against San Francisco with a groin injury, and spend the team’s Sept. 13 victory over Chicago on the sideline because of the groin injury.
“Something that I’m not pretty high on doing is standing on the sideline as much as I’ve been standing on the sideline. And missing practice, for that matter, as much. Growing pains, I guess. (You’ve) got go through it at some point. I’ll get through it. I’m a positive guy.”
The timing certainly hasn’t been ideal. Jennings is entering the final year of his contract and is line for a major free-agent payday – most likely from a team other than the Packers, as both he and quarterback Aaron Rodgers have wondered aloud whether there’s any chance the receiver will be back in 2013 – and being hurt isn’t the way to get it.
Jennings was encouraged after practicing on a limited basis on Friday, but it’s still not guaranteed that he’ll play Monday night at Seattle – even though he maintained that he will. He appeared to have progressed entering Tuesday’s practice, but he wasn’t able to finish and could suffer another setback, as he did then.
“It’s going to be something I’m going to have to push through right now,” Jennings said.
For much of his NFL career, Jennings has done just that. While he hasn’t been immune to nagging injuries, he had played in 95 of a possible 100 games (including playoffs) before suffering a knee injury last Dec. 11 against Oakland. He missed the next three games – a loss at Kansas City that ended the Packers’ hopes of going 16-0, a Christmas Day victory over Chicago and a New Year’s Day victory over Detroit, a game he would later say he could have played in if it had meant something.
He returned for the team’s NFC Divisional Playoff loss to the New York Giants, then played against the 49ers before sitting out last week against Chicago, meaning he’s now missed four of his team’s last six games that counted. Before this, he’d only missed two games as a rookie in 2006 (one with an ankle injury, one for the birth of his daughter Amya) and three in 2007 (two for an ankle injury to start the season, plus the meaningless regular-season finale that year).
“Obviously, we’d love to have him out there, and hopefully that’s the case, but as in any situation at any position, if a guy’s not there, the next guy up has to get ready to go,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said Friday. “We’ve had a lot of experience with that. We definitely want him out there. If he’s not available, the next guy has to play.”
For Rodgers, who didn’t appear to be on the same page with Jennings in the playoff loss, getting limited work with Jennings in preseason isn’t a concern, “but I think it’s something we have to think about. We have a lot of game reps together (in the past). I’m not sure where’s he at with his legs and his conditioning and his running. If he’s out there, it’s going to help our offense, but we definitely haven’t had a lot of reps in training camp and the season thus far. It’s going to be important to be on the same page and that’s got to come through getting him out there and giving him some chances to catch the ball.”
Jennings believes there will be plenty of those chances still ahead in the coming weeks. And when asked if he’s been frustrated by his recent bad luck, his answer wasn’t surprising.
“I’m not one who believes in bad luck,” Jennings said. “It’s all a part of the game. But it is frustrating, it really is frustrating. You can get down, but I try not to do that. I try to be positive (even though the) negative kind of jumps in your face. That kind of weighs on you
“The fact (is) that this just isn’t me, not being out here, not being a part, not being active, being injured. I don’t even like using the word. Having something hinder from me going out there is foreign. It’s been a process I’m not accustomed to, but something I’ve had to adjust to. We’re working through it.”