Last week, Jerome Simpson displayed the speed. This week, it was the hands.
Simpson, the free-agent acquisition from the Cincinnati Bengals who signed a one-year contract with the Minnesota Vikings, had the catch of the day – and likely the offseason to this point – during Wednesday’s practice.
On the second play of a full-team session of offense versus defense, quarterback Christian Ponder lofted a pass deep down the right sideline. Cornerback Chris Cook was in good position, but Simpson closed the gap, leaped over Cook and plucked the ball out of the air.
“Christian just threw a great ball and I just did what I’m supposed to do and catch it,” Simpson said.
“It feels good just to be on the same page with him and catching his balls. It’s just making plays, man. It just feels good to just be out here and running around making plays.”
While still early in the offseason process, Simpson has made a quick and seemingly seamless transition to the Vikings offense. He and Ponder appear to have gotten on the same wavelength in quick order.
Simpson easily had the best season of his four-year career last year, posting career highs in games played (16), starts (14), catches (50), yards (725) and touchdowns (four). In fact, all but the touchdown numbers were double any of his previous seasonal outputs.
During the two practice sessions open to the media, it’s become apparent that Ponder is intrigued with Simpson’s speed.
“It's very important. It creates a whole dimension, another dimension having a guy that is such a deep threat,” Ponder said after Wednesday’s practice. “Especially with Adrian, defenses would stack the box and bring an extra safety down in the box, but when you have a guy that can run down the field, they're going to be more worried about covering deep as well. Not only that but, when he looks like he's setting up to run deep and then breaks out on a dig route or a curl or something, he has such a big cushion he's wide open.”
The early connection Wednesday during full-team work went about 40 yards, but Simpson said he doesn’t care how he is used, just as long as he is contributing.
“Any ball, it don’t matter if it’s deep, short, I want to catch it,” he said. “It don’t matter what role (offensive coordinator Bill) Musgrave has for me. I just want to be out there playing.”
Musgrave said he has “most definitely” seen a chemistry building between Simpson and Ponder, and Simpson’s speed has caught the eye of Musgrave as well.
“He’s got a lot of speed and I think he’s pretty good after the catch from what he’s shown at Cincinnati, so we’re hoping to get some chunks from that position,” Musgrave said.
Last year, Simpson averaged 14.5 yards per catch and in 2010 averaged 13.9. The only Viking with more than 10 catches last year to average more than 13 yards a catch was Devin Aromashodu, who averaged 18 yards on 26 receptions.
While Simpson said is satisfied with any contributing role with the Vikings, he knows the importance of a receiver being able to stretch the field.
“Once you get that one go ball by them or post or whatever, deep ball, they’ve got to start backing up and respecting you then,” he said. “So I just want to put that fear into them that I might run by them.”
Simpson said the timing with Ponder is coming along. He expects that timing and his comfort in Musgrave’s offense to be ready by training camp.
After the preseason, however, Simpson is scheduled to be suspended for the first three games after having 2½ pounds of marijuana shipped to his Kentucky home in September. He pleaded guilty to a prohibited act relating to a controlled substance and was sentenced to 15 days in jail, three years of probation and 200 hours of community service.
“It is (frustrating) because I won’t be out there with my guys playing the game I love, but it’s the technicality of my situation,” he said, adding that he was letting his agent handle the legal situation.
With his arrest behind him and suspension ahead of him, Simpson is concentrating on the present. But if the last two weeks – and specifically Wednesday’s catch – were any indication, Simpson could be a long-term solution to the Vikings’ receiving deficiencies of late.
“Anybody who witnessed that play today, you’re going to get jacked up. That was an incredible play and one of the reasons we get excited about him,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “We’re hoping to see that on Sunday afternoons, plays like that. That would really help our team, help our quarterback’s confidence and we need that. We need that.”
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.