If Jacksonville running back Rashad Jennings is as hard to tackle this season as he is to talk about the opportunity staring him in the face, he could be a 1,000-yard rusher in 2012.
Up until this year, Jennings has been a dependable backup for starter Maurice Jones-Drew. But Jennings has taken over the starting role as Jones-Drew's holdout for a renegotiation of his contract enters its second week of training camp.
Jennings has down-played his new-found spotlight. He says nothing has changed for him, that he's working just as hard as he did a year ago in training camp, that he's running with the same intensity he exhibited in 2009 and 2010 when he gained 202 and 459 yards respectively in a backup role to Jones-Drew.
What he won't admit is that his presence with the No. 1 offense is any more special than his spot with the second-team offense the past three years.
"It's the same opportunity, regardless of who's in the locker room," said Jennings who missed the entire 2011 season with a knee injury in the preseason. "Regardless of if you're running with the 1's, 2's or 3's, we have the same opportunity to come out here and play a child's game as grown men and compete for a championship."
Push him harder to say that this season could be something special depending on how long Jones-Drew sits out, and Jennings won't budge.
"My approach will never change," he said. "It's never changed in high school, in college, in the NFL. You go out there and compete and you prepare as a starter every single day. When opportunity presents itself, it's too late to prepare for it."
Sound advice as it may seem, one has to feel that Jennings has special feelings of what's happened to him in the past 12 months. Coming off the 459 yards as a backup to Jones-Drew two years ago, the seventh-round draft pick in 2009 was thinking he would get even more playing time and more carries in 2011. That might have happened but it didn't come about as Jennings suffered a knee injury late in the preseason and was placed on injured reserve despite his objections.
He felt that he could play at some point in the season. There was no structural damage to the knee, nothing that would require surgery. Just some idle time to strengthen the knee and make it 100 percent.
"I had the opportunity to sit back and watch the game from a different perspective, from the sidelines," he said. "It was very frustrating at times. I felt I could have helped the team the second half of the season."
Jennings had started the final three games of the 2010 season when Jones-Drew was out with a torn meniscus. In the season finale that year against Houston, Jennings rushed for a career-high 108 yards.
Jennings has been running with the same authority in training camp thus far. In the team's first scrimmage in front of over 15,000 fans on Friday, Jennings was a standout, gaining 37 yards on three swing passes out of the backfield, rushing for 20 yards on four carries and returning a kickoff 18 yards.
Jennings is a bargain find for the Jaguars. They're paying him the minimum $560,000 in this, the final year of his contract which also contains a $1.3 million escalator. Jennings solid camp has reinforced the belief that the Jaguars aren't likely to change their position of re-doing Jones-Drew' contract that has two years left on it.
He's gained the admiration of head coach Mike Mularkey.
"It looks like he is very comfortable with the offense," the Jaguars new coach said. "He understands what we're trying to do. He's playing fast. He's seeing things with the run game and even in protections he's doing better."
What he's not doing better is conveying his true thoughts about his new opportunity for stardom in the NFL. Instead, Jennings will let his production speak for itself.
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