MANKATO, Minn. -- If new Vikings receiver Greg Jennings was trying to follow his head coach's orders and steer clear of any distraction-creating talk about his former Packers teammate Aaron Rodgers, he failed quite miserably on Thursday afternoon at Minnesota's training camp.
Jennings recently has taken to referring to Rodgers in interviews as "12,'' rather than by name, and last week in a Minneapolis Star Tribune story bemoaned the quarterback's penchant for creating a "spotlight for himself'' and putting himself above the Packers team. He also pointedly referred to Rodgers as "the guy they have now,'' and said he preferred former Packers quarterback Brett Favre to Rodgers. Jennings signed a five-year free-agent contract with Minnesota in March after playing the first seven seasons of his NFL career in Green Bay, and is now the Vikings' top receiving threat.
The out-of-character criticism of his former quarterback and once close friend was strong enough that Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier over the weekend told Jennings to talk only about his new team, not the Packers, and reminded him: "That's where our focus has to be. We don't want to be looking at what's happening with other teams, other teams' players. We've got to focus on us. He's good with that.''
Jennings might be good with that, but he offered a rather ham-handed apology to Rodgers on Thursday, after first telling the media that "I don't really recall saying anything negative about Aaron or anybody over there,'' he said. "But hey, I apologize.''
Asked if he had called Rodgers to offer that apology personally, Jennings replied: "No. For what? I'm apologizing right now. If it got to him (meaning his criticism), then I feel like if I apologize to him right here with you guys, you'll make sure he hears that?''
When it was noted that Jennings had just referred to Rodgers by "Aaron,'' Jennings asked: "Did I call him that? Oh, we're talking about 12? Gotcha. No, he's still 12. He's still 12. I can't give him that. He's 12. He's no longer the MVP. We have the MVP over here (running back Adrian Peterson).''
Jennings was smiling and joking when he said most of that, and he went on to claim, rather unconvincingly, that his comments about Rodgers were said "all out of fun. I'm just saying something just to say it. They (the Packers) know that's not me.''
Later, in a one-on-one interview with SI.com, Jennings said he hoped he put the controversy involving his critical Rodgers comments to rest, but Thursday seemed to add fuel to the fire that already exists between Jennings and the quarterback he won a Super Bowl ring with. The NFC North division rivals don't play until Week 8 this season.
"Aaron knows me, (Packers) Coach (Mike) McCarthy knows me,'' Jennings said. "Every guy in that locker room, they know me, they know my character. I'm not a smack talker, so why would I try to start now? I was just having fun with it.
"I remember someone telling me, (Rodgers) said, 'Greg who?' in some interview. He did that, I ran with it. (Packers current receiver) James Jones joked. We texted each other. If the media wants to talk about it and blow it up, let them. I don't want to be a distraction to this team. That's the one thing I don't want to do.''
It might be a bit too late for that. If Jennings had made that his message to the media on Thursday from the start, he might have put the issue behind him and his new team for good. But that opportunity was lost.
Earlier Thursday, before Jennings made his latest comments, Frazier was asked by SI.com why he asked his veteran receiver to refrain from his criticism of Rodgers.
"It's just the right thing to do,'' Frazier said. "He's a Minnesota Viking now. It's not necessary to go there. (The rivalry) is big enough. You don't have to be stirring it up any more. It's just not necessary. I think he got the message. He understood and he agreed with me and hopefully there won't be anything more like that.''
Attempting to soften the impact of his critique of Rodgers, Jennings said Thursday that a piece of himself was still in Green Bay, and that "everything I said, I'm joking. I'm messing. I'm pulling Aaron's arm. If he doesn't know that, or (the media) doesn't know that, I played with the guy for seven years. I think he knows that.''
But Jennings shouldn't be so sure about that. During a visit to Green Bay's training camp on Monday, I was told Rodgers was caught quite off-guard by Jennings' criticism and didn't know his former favorite target had such bitter feelings upon leaving the Packers. Rodgers has largely declined to directly comment on Jennings' barbs, saying he only cares about and pays attention to the opinions of his current teammates, coaches and organization.