EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Perhaps the hyperbaric chamber he sleeps in really is slowing Rashad Jennings' aging process.
Jennings is 30, the age when conventional wisdom in the NFL suggests running backs should be in decline. But when Jennings lines up for the first play of the Giants' season finale Sunday vs. Philadelphia, he will have started every game this season – and played a full 16-game season for the first time in his seven-year career.
"That's something that I'm thankful for," Jennings said today. "This is a physical game, sometimes there's nothing you can do to avoid particular kind of hits. I'm fortunate, I'm thankful for it. It'll be something to be proud of."
But Jennings hasn't just been going through the motions. He leads the Giants with 693 rushing yards. If he can run for 31 more against the Eagles, he will set a career high.
"The older I get, actually the fresher I feel," Jennings said. "I've been putting on the tape from my very first year (2009) to now, I'm just continuing to get faster, smarter, and I plan on continuing to do that. The work ethic I have for the offseason, the things that go into it - chiropractor, acupuncture, the way I eat, sleep in the chamber - it's a lot of work that I put in outside of these walls to give myself a chance for a 16-game season."
In the first 12 games, Jennings totaled 431 yards, a 35.9 per-game average, and his highest single-game total was 63 yards at Philadelphia. But he's cranking it up at the end of the
season. In the last three games, Jennings has rushed for 81, 107 and 74 yards, a total of 262, and an 87.3-yard average per game.
"That's how you want to finish," he said. "Obviously, you can't rewind the tape, you can only deal with the circumstances that you have, and continue to grow and finish."
Jennings played in 15 games for the 2013 Oakland Raiders, a total he has now matched. That season, he rushed for career-best totals of 733 yards and six touchdowns. So what does he think about possibly exceeding that total on Sunday?
"It's not anything that I'm overly excited about," Jennings said. "But I am excited to continue to work and to build."
In 2014, his first season with the Giants, Jennings started well, rushing for a career-high 176 yards in a victory over Houston. But he soon suffered a knee injury that forced him to miss four games, and he sat out a late-season victory in St. Louis with an ankle injury. The Giants were 1-4 in the games he missed.
"You see what you would have been able to do if you're in the game, so that's always frustrating to watch," Jennings said. "But you keep battling back, and I think for all the years I've been in the league, it's a 100 percent rate that you're going to get hurt. But it's a testament for guys that know how to come back from injuries and continue to get better. That comes from work ethic. I give a lot of credit to my trainers and the people that I work with to keep my body fresh."
Jennings is eager to prove that he can continue to produce at his seemingly advanced age for a running back. When he was a rookie in Jacksonville, Jennings had a conversation with teammate and fellow back Maurice Jones-Drew that helped him crystallize his long-term goals.
"We sat down and talked about all kinds of different stuff, and we set different goals and expectations," Jennings said. "One of the things that I said I want to have, I want to be one of the guys to be able to put my hand on as many punts as possible, whether they're blocked or tipped. I want to be the oldest, most productive running back. That's what I told him my rookie year. I'm going to learn how to take care of my body and be sustainable throughout my whole entire career. So that's a goal. Those opportunities, I know they're there. Let me prove everybody wrong."
Jennings is already looking forward to doing that in the 2016 season.
"The goal is to get to the playoffs, and get an opportunity to fight for the championship," Jennings said. "I feel like I'm just now getting to my prime. There's no question at all that my best football is still ahead of me."
Keep an eye on these five players as the Giants face the Eagles on Sunday