The good news is, he’s loose, relaxed and clearly not feeling any extra pressure after re-inheriting his old starting job. Well, maybe a bit rusty. Upon meeting the horde of reporters for what used to be a daily routine, post-practice interviews, Jonathon Jennings realized he had to fetch a cap from Travis Lulay. Can’t have messy air, after all.
“Man, Travis has a big mug,” chuckled Jennings as he adjusted the velcro.
At least we know the younger pivot has not lost his sense of humour.
The number one question coming out of 2018 training camp surrounded that of Jennings himself: could he re-establish the form he displayed in 2016? And now that he once again has the keys to the vehicle looking to head toward November glory, the Saginaw Valley State produce will likely hear some of those same questions. More good news for the Lions and their fans? Jennings is ready for this latest assignment.
“It’s just the next guy up mentality. I’ve got to do my job,” said Jennings.
“That’s what I’m here for at this moment in time; I’ve got to play football to help this team win.”
It will have been 12 full weeks since Jennings started a game behind centre and for a guy who appeared to have all of the tools before injuries started to take a toll last season, he insists he will still try to approach it the way he always has.
“Just that mindset of trying to stay patient,” explained Jennings about what might feel different this time.
“I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve kind of told myself while I’ve been the second string is just (that) when I get my opportunity just be patient, don’t force things, try to let the game come to you and I don’t need to do too much. We didn’t do a whole lot on offence this past week, but we also didn’t try to kill ourselves either. It gave us an opportunity to win.”
The numbers themselves don’t lie: of their five victories this season, Jennings was pretty much behind centre for three of them, the last two coming in relief of his good buddy Lulay.
And Although the veteran could very well return sooner rather than originally feared after dislocating his shoulder in Montreal, the club is not looking one second beyond this weekend’s test with Hamilton; the first of a crucial home and home series.
“You gotta play ball one day at a time, one game at a time. They’re a good team,” said Jennings of the Ticats.
“They’ve got a good linebacking core, a good front four and a lot of good guys in the secondary. We’re definitely not taking those guys lightly. (We) need to go out there and play good, quality football.”
You can hear it in his voice. He is ready to lead once again.
But at the end of the day, it’s a team game. If the Lions’ defence continues to perform the way it has over the last couple of weeks, Jennings and the offence won’t feel pressured to score 35 points every week.
Reigning CFL Top Performer of the Week Anthony Orange is feeling good these days, yet he’s quick to point out he and his crew aren’t quite satisfied just yet.
“Absolutely not. I want to get more picks, I know they want to get more picks, we’re all competing with each other and everybody wants to catch everybody so the more opportunities we get, the more picks we’ll get,” said a confident Orange.
And they’re in for a much tougher test now. Tiger-Cats’ quarterback Jeremiah Masoli is known for getting the ball out quickly in Hamilton’s ‘run and shoot’ offence.
Masoli has also thrown for 300 or more yards nine times this season. Orange feels the guys behind him will be up to the task.
” I can’t wait to play him,” added Orange.
“I know he’s going to throw the ball. He’s confident in his arm, he’s going to air it out down the field, make some throws maybe that he’s not supposed to and then when he does we’re going to capitalize on it.”
Orange and the Lions’ defence now leads the CFL in sacks, interceptions, is tied with Ottawa for most pass knockdowns and has allowed the second-fewest points after Calgary. Perhaps the most impressive improvement has come in the always important turnover ratio where they have jumped from minus six to minus one in just a couple of weeks.
For Jennings, getting to practice against this motivated group can only guarantee he gets the best preparation for this week and potentially some more crucial games down the road.
“For sure. You’ve got some of the best DBs in the league,” stated number 10.
“Really crafty, really smart and they’re playing tremendous football. (defensive coordinator) Mark (Washington) has them in really good spots right now, he’s utilizing their strengths and it’s always a good challenge going against them every day.”
Now destiny is firmly in their hands. With a little more frost on the windshield every morning, it serves as a nice reminder that these upcoming games will pretty much feel like the playoffs.
“I was telling guys last week it felt like one of the grittiest, toughest games that I’d played in awhile,” said Jennings.
“People want to win right now and there’s a lot on the line, a lot symbolizing what can happen in the latter (part) of the season. Everybody’s playing tough right now.”
His melon may not be as big, but he approaches it the right way, just like his mentor.