Friday, August 15th, 1997
Jennings Cut by the Oilers
It seems that the can't-miss tight end prospect may have gone quietly into that good night.
On Thursday, the news broke that former Hokie Tight End Bryan Jennings was cut by the Oilers. Undrafted this spring, Jennings was trying out as a free agent for the Oilers. From what I had heard, which was very little, the Oilers weren't very interested in him, listing him as a fullback/tight end and giving him very little playing time in their exhibition games.
Out of all the Hokies who were drafted or were trying out as free agents, Jennings and Brian Edmonds (Seattle) are the two that created very little noise or press clippings. We have been able to keep tabs on Druck, Cornell, Torrian, Antonio, Myron, Jay Hagood, and the surprising Waverly, and even T.J. Washington down in Dallas seems to be doing well. Jennings and Edmonds, however, disappeared after signing free-agent contracts, and Jennings is the first to get cut from this year's class.
The Bryan Jennings story mystifies me. A Parade All-American out of high school, Jennings' career got off to a slow start at Tech. He was a backup for his first two years and didn't really make much noise until his junior year, when Hokie fans started to take notice of him and wonder loudly - and often - why he wasn't getting the ball more. His junior year was marked by a rumbling touchdown catch in the big road win over WVU and was punctuated by a six-catch, 77 yard performance in the Sugar Bowl.
As the 1996 season dawned, it appeared that Jennings' Tech career was finally about to take off. Bryan Still had graduated, and with exception of the erratic Corney White, Tech wasn't returning any receivers with significant experience. I personally felt that Jennings was going to become the go-to guy, and that Druckenmiller and Jennings were going to tear the Big East and the nation up.
Although there weren't a lot of passes thrown his way early in the season, it appeared that Jennings would indeed have a decent senior campaign. The high point for Jennings came early in the year, when he caught two TD passes in a blowout of Boston College.
Unfortunately, after that, the big tight end was never a factor again. Tech's inability - or refusal - to use him was most glaring in the 52-21 loss at Syracuse. The Orangemen stacked the line and jammed Tech's small receivers one-on-one at the line of scrimmage. The wide receivers were taken completely out of the game by Syracuse's talented, experienced cornerbacks, and the Tech running game was stifled by the large numbers of bodies on the defensive line. It seemed to be the perfect opportunity to dump short passes to Jennings across the middle and let him run for the end zone, but for some reason, we never went to him. Like everyone else in the game, Jennings too was a non-factor, and we were destroyed by Syracuse.
After that, we hardly saw Jennings again, except when he was running down the field wide open while Druck threw the ball to a wideout or a running back. Jennings started to show his frustration in these situations, often throwing his hands up in the air in disgust and hanging his head as he once again went unnoticed. Publicly, Jennings said all the right things, deferring to the team concept and saying that the coaches knew what they were doing. With such admirable displays of character and team-oriented attitude, Jennings became even more of a fan favorite, and each of those rare times that he touched the ball, we roared in approval. His career culminated in an Orange Bowl game where Druck finally threw to him more often, but several of the passes were off target or behind Jennings, and he never got in a groove and made an impact.
Week after week, Frank Beamer was asked why we didn't throw the ball to Jennings more. He was such an incredible receiving talent that it seemed to be a waste to use him as a glorified blocker. As the season wore on, Beamer's responses to the unending questions about Bryan Jennings became more and more terse. At one point, when asked the question for the umpteenth time, he barked an answer similar to, "Listen - the right people (NFL scouts) know about Bryan Jennings. Don't you worry about him. He'll do well at the next level."
Well, apparently not. On draft day Jennings went unpicked, and he had to go the free-agent route. He hooked up with the Oilers, who listed him as a fullback, and I immediately smelled trouble. Only an idiot would try to use an accomplished line blocker and receiver like Jennings as a fullback, when he had never played the position before. The sure-fire way to make sure a free agent gets cut is to hand him a new position that he's never played before, in his entire life, and then challenge him to make an NFL team as he competes against drafted rookies and veterans who have played the position before. It was just a matter of time before Jennings was released, and yesterday, it happened.
A year ago, I never would have believed it would end up at this. I thought for sure that Jennings was a can't-miss prospect, a great receiving tight end whose blocking abilities had been refined to a level that would ensure him a spot on an NFL roster. Don't forget, John Burke did it, and he isn't close to being the receiver that Jennings is.
There were whispers that Jennings was a bit of a slacker. NFL scouts said that he didn't try hard on every play. But in my mind, that's a chicken-and-egg scenario. Ask yourself this: if you knew that every time you ran down the middle of the field wide open, you were going to be ignored anyway, don't you think that would affect your intensity?
In my opinion, Jennings remains to this day an anomaly in recent Tech football history. Everyone knows Virginia Tech to be a football program that makes the most of its players, but in the case of Bryan Jennings, I can only say that he was a tremendous talent that was sadly wasted by a coaching staff that for some reason was blind to its diamond in the rough. I hope there is an NFL team lurking out there who will snap him up, but I fear that it won't happen. If the fat lady has truly sung on Bryan Jennings' football career, than it's a sad song, indeed.