Jerome Simpson has been making offense easier — and even more fun — since he joined the Minnesota Vikings in the spring.
They just have to figure out how to cope without him for the first three weeks of September.
Simply by being a new player at a skill position, Simpson is already in the spotlight. But nobody on the roster is more noticeable than him, given his highlight-worthy catches and moves as well as his joyful, boyish antics on the field.
“He’s an entertainer. He brings life to practice,” running back Toby Gerhart said.
He has also brought a much-needed alternative for Christian Ponder. Percy Harvin does his thing all over the field and the capable tight ends are working in the middle, but a quarterback can’t be comfortable without a reliably fast receiver to find on a deep pass when all else breaks down.
Gerhart said he’s seen Simpson’s presence bring out the best in Ponder, allowing him to relax a little and build more confidence.
“My job is easy right now when guys like Percy Harvin and Jerome Simpson take a 4-yard catch and make it into a 50-yard gain,” Ponder said.
The first-team offense has been sharp through two exhibition games. Simpson helped set up a touchdown on the first possession against Buffalo on Friday, when he caught a pass underneath the secondary and hurdled over a Bills defender on his way to a 33-yard reception.
That’s the kind of athleticism he has, and that’s also the type of unbridled creativity and enthusiasm he has carried himself with here. Simpson will often be seen literally skipping onto the practice field or jumping up and down to celebrate a teammate’s big play.
Those big plays are exactly why the Vikings (29th AP Pro32 rankings) pursued him.
“That’s what our business is all about. You can draw up X’s and O’s all day long, but if you don’t have playmakers, you’re whistling in the wind,” coach Leslie Frazier said, adding: “We’re looking forward to seeing more and more of that on Sundays. He’s a guy that Christian has become very confident with.”
Simpson was available, of course, because of that pending suspension. He signed a one-year, prove-it contract in April after his felony drug conviction for a marijuana shipment to his home last fall.
Simpson never got comfortable in Cincinnati despite those exceptional running and leaping abilities, trying to learn a complex NFL offense after coming from Coastal Carolina.
With the legal trouble as well as the unfulfilled experience with the Bengals now behind him, Simpson’s ease and excitement with his new surroundings have been apparent.
“Last season I just got my first chance to start and prove myself, and this year it’s even going to be even better because the game is slowing down to me,” Simpson said. “The game is just slowing down to me. I understand it a lot better. I can see coverages and see what they’re defense is trying to do to me better. It’s basically just going out there and executing and just being Jerome Simpson.”
Simpson acknowledged he’s trying to prove himself a little more than usual in August because of the time he’ll miss in September.
The Vikings, though, haven’t expressed much concern about his absence yet, perhaps too busy enjoying his presence now and trusting he’ll be back for the fourth game and beyond.
“We’ll handle that when it gets here. And again, someone will step up in his place,” Ponder said.
The options behind Harvin are underwhelming, with veteran Michael Jenkins the most polished and Stephen Burton, a seventh-round draft pick in 2011 from West Texas A&M, perhaps the most intriguing.
But none of them, Harvin included, have the overall skill set that Simpson has been showing.
“He really spreads the field. He’s a vertical threat, anytime he touches the ball. He’s leaping over people,” Gerhart said. “He’s a dangerous guy.”