Ex-Bengal Jerome Simpson effusive in praise of former team

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Jerome Simpson is looking forward to
going back to “The Jungle.”

Simpson, the former Cincinnati Bengals’ receiver, spoke
affectionately of returning to Cincinnati, where he spent the first four
seasons of his career, and the Bengals’ stadium, referred to as “The
Jungle.”

“Just a great organization to play for,” Simpson
said Wednesday in anticipation of the Minnesota Vikings’ game Sunday at
Cincinnati. “I love the Browns (the Bengals’ owners). They stuck by me for
my years there, showed me a lot of love and support. It’s just going to be fun
times to go back and play in ‘The Jungle.'”

Simpson was a second-round draft pick by the Bengals in 2008
out of Coastal Carolina. After three seasons spent mostly as a little-used
reserve, Simpson started 14 of his 16 games played and had career-highs with 50
catches, 725 receiving yards and four touchdowns in 2011.

But Simpson wasn’t re-signed by Cincinnati in 2012, burdened
by a felony drug charge. Minnesota took a chance on the energetic receiver with
a one-year contract. He’s now on his second one-year contract with the Vikings.

“No animosity at all,” Simpson said. “I still
have much love for the Bengals and that organization, especially the Brown
family; a great family and the coaches there, especially coach (Marvin) Lewis,
a great coach. They’re doing a great thing there. They’re taking players that
some people, they might not take, and they turn them around and make them into
great players.”

Simpson said he learned a lot in Cincinnati and felt the
support of the organization.

“They offered a lot of support,” Simpson said.
“The first couple years I didn’t really play much, and that was because I was
behind some great receivers there — Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh,
Laveranues Coles, Chris Henry, rest in peace. It was just my time for me to
learn, coming from a small school. So they just took advantage of that, and
those guys, they do a great job with that.”

Simpson is second in receiving for Minnesota with 44 catches
for 689 yards. He lost his starting job following a DWI arrest in November, but
he’s still been a vital part of the Vikings’ passing offense, coming up with
several critical catches this season.

He will always be known for one moment in Cincinnati when he
somersaulted over a defender to score a touchdown. He said he’s still asked
often about the play and said it’s something that can’t be planned.

“Just jumping over a guy and not meaning to really do
it, I don’t think,” Simpson said, remembering the play. “It’s just a
blessing in disguise because it helped me get my name on the map and it’s what
I’m kind of known now for, that flip. It was just a great experience to do it
in that black and orange and hopefully I can make plays in the purple like
that.”

Cassel has Jennings’ support: Matt Cassel’s ascension to the
starting quarterback job has also led to a resurgence for receiver Greg
Jennings, who has caught all four of his touchdowns this season from Cassel.

Jennings and Cassel each signed free-agent contracts with
Minnesota in the offseason, with the two veterans coming from Green Bay and
Kansas City, respectively.

Jennings signed a five-year deal with the Vikings, while
Cassel was signed for two years, with a player option on the second year that
would pay him $3.7 million next season. Jennings would like Cassel to return
with him.

“Yeah, I would love to see Matt back,” Jennings
said Wednesday. “He’s a great guy, he’s a great leader. He has a great,
great feel of the locker room. I think guys rallied behind him. I would love to
see Matt back.”

Cassel said he isn’t thinking about the offseason yet and is
just concentrating on the final two games, which he appears likely to start to
finish the season with four straight starts.

Jennings had a career-high 11 catches last week with 163
yards and a touchdown as Cassel threw for 382 yards and Minnesota scored 48
points, the most in a single game by the team since 1998.

“It’s just about taking what the defense gives
you,” Jennings said. “I can’t speak for what Matt sees. I know we
talk a lot, whether he’s playing or not. I talk to him more than any other
quarterback in the building, that’s just the kind of relationship we had coming
in. Experienced guy, so he understands defenses, knows what they’re trying to
do, what they’re trying to take away. I think that helps. But as far as having
more success with Matt, it’s just about taking advantage of the opportunities
that you’re given.”

Smith back in starting role: Vikings safety Harrison Smith
returned last week after eight weeks on injured reserve with a toe injury.

Smith was expected to be eased back in and rotate with
Andrew Sendejo and Jamarca Sanford at safety. However, after not starting,
Smith played 61 of the 69 defensive snaps in Sunday’s win. Coach Leslie Frazier
said Smith will be back as the starter this week.

“Now that Harrison got some time, we’re ready to put
him back in the starting lineup,” Frazier said. “Let’s not delay
that, we want him in the starting lineup. He did a good job. His presence was
huge in that game. His playmaking ability, we’re glad to have him back, and his
teammates are, too.”

The rest of the starting secondary is still in doubt. Rookie
cornerback Xavier Rhodes missed practice again Wednesday, but Frazier hopes he
can return Thursday from a sprained ankle. Fellow cornerback Chris Cook was
back at practice Wednesday.

Cook and Rhodes both missed Sunday’s game, leaving Marcus
Sherels and Shaun Prater the starters at cornerback. Prater responded with his
first career interception.

“With the other guys, we’ll have to see where Xavier
eventually gets to, if he can make it this week,” Frazier said. “We
want to watch Chris this week in practice to see what he does. We don’t have
Josh (Robinson) anymore ,so we’ll still have to do a little juggling but we’ll
see how it goes this week in practice. … It depends on how they look in practice.
If (Rhodes and Cook) looking like they can go out and match up against some
pretty good receivers there in Cincinnati, then there’s a pretty good chance
that will be the case. We’ll see how they do.”

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