EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Eight weeks into the season, and four games into his tenure with the Minnesota Vikings, this year hasn’t gone the way receiver Jerome Simpson or Minnesota might have planned when the two came to terms on a one-year contract this offseason.
Simpson, dealing with a legal issue related to controlled substances, was the troubled but talented receiver looking for a new team after the Cincinnati Bengals chose not to re-sign him. The Vikings had the need for an explosive, athletic playmaker at receiver to take the pressure off receiver Percy Harvin, running back Adrian Peterson and contribute to the growth of second-year quarterback Christian Ponder.
Halfway through this season, Simpson has had little impact in four games, catching seven passes for 95 yards. He has added several more yards while getting pass interference penalties on defenders. But this was not the dynamic presence anyone with the Vikings thought they’d see when Simpson was a breath of fresh air in the offseason program and seemed to develop an instant chemistry with Ponder.
“It’s been tough,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “The way his season started, the absence and missing games, and then the injury he had there for a little bit. But as we go along, he’ll become more acclimated to what we’re trying to get done and we’ll get a better rhythm of how to use him as well. But I think we’re making some progress. We just haven’t connected as often as we’d like, but I think it will come.”
Coming off a three-game suspension to start the season, which was expected before Simpson signed, the fifth-year receiver came out strong against the Detroit Lions in his first game, catching four passes for 50 yards and another 57 yards in penalties. Then he dealt with a strange back injury that was causing numbness and weakness in his foot, causing him to be limited his next game and a surprise deactivation the following week.
Simpson has said he’s healthy and was disappointed with being inactive against the Washington Redskins because it cost him $60,000 because of a clause in his contract. He’s been testy when asked about his health in recent weeks.
Instead, he’s focusing on making an impact and trying to re-establish his rapport with Ponder.
“Yeah, we’re still on the same page,” Simpson said of his connection with Ponder. “We’re going to just try and get back to where we were and be the best we can be.”
Simpson was targeted seven times in last week’s game, but only came away with two catches for 37 yards. He had one deep pass go through his hands. Ponder also tried to hit Simpson a few times deep down the sideline on passes that went out of bounds.
“I think we had that chemistry ever since he got here, and we need to keep working on it,” Ponder said. “It’s good. I fully trust him and obviously he’s a heck of a receiver.”
Simpson, on his first catch last week, fumbled while trying to gain extra yards, but Ponder doesn’t sense Simpson is trying to press because of the limited productivity.
“He’s a competitor, and he’s always trying to make big plays,” Ponder said. “We all just need to do a better job of protecting the ball. That’s no fault to him. I don’t think he’s pressing, no. I definitely think he wants the ball in his hand like everyone else does.”
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said part of the issue, as with the other receivers, could be some of the routes they are asking Simpson to run. Simpson is blessed with good speed, though the majority of his routes have been deep down the sideline.
“Well, if you looked at the film I guess you could answer that in the affirmative on a couple plays,” Musgrave said of Simpson not getting enough separation from defenders. “But, we need to do a better job also of asking him to run different types of routes as well. We’re looking forward to that starting this week.”
Simpson sounds ready for whatever is asked of him. He’s been desperate to help the team and his disappointment in being limited, physically and production-wise, has been obvious.
“I know all my routes and stuff,” Simpson said. “It’s just putting me in the best position to help us win, and that’s what Musgrave is trying to do. We’re trying to get me involved and then still staying in the game plan because we still have great players like Percy (Harvin) that we have to get the ball to, and Adrian (Peterson) and the tight ends, too.”
Harvin misses Thursday’s practice: Leading receiver Percy Harvin missed Thursday’s practice and Frazier said he was tending to a family matter.
Harvin, who leads the NFL with 60 catches this season, is expected to be back for Friday’s practice, and Frazier said he’s “pretty convinced” the matter won’t cause Harvin to miss Sunday’s game at Seattle.
Frazier said Harvin was currently still in town and hadn’t returned home as of Thursday afternoon.
“I’m not sure if he’ll have to,” Frazier said of Harvin leaving town. “He’s trying to get some details. We’ll see. I’ll talk to him again tonight when we get through with practice.”
Harvin was limited in practice Wednesday with a hamstring injury, the same hamstring that was sore earlier this season. But Frazier didn’t seem worried about the injury.
“He moved pretty good,” Frazier said. “It was a little tight, but he moved pretty good. He went through everything that we did. So, he was fine.”
Carlson still not cleared: Tight end John Carlson still hasn’t passed his concussion testing and likely won’t be able to return for Sunday’s game against his former team with only one practice left this week.
Carlson, who’s had at least four documented concussions, missed last week’s game after suffering the concussion while on special teams on Oct. 21 against the Arizona Cardinals. The first free agent signed by Minnesota in the offseason, Carlson has just three catches for eight yards this season.
No trades at deadline: The league’s trade deadline passed by Thursday afternoon with no action from the Vikings. The league had pushed back the deadline to Thursday because of Hurricane Sandy, which caused league offices to be closed.
Minnesota still has an open spot on its active 53-man roster since putting Chris Cook on injured reserve last week. The Viking held several tryouts over the past few days, and Frazier said the personnel staff has had a lot of discussion on how to fill the spot.
Frazier said Minnesota could look to fill in Cook’s spot by signing a cornerback before Sunday’s game, but no moves were made Thursday. Speculation that the 53rd spot stayed open while talking trades went unfulfilled after the deadline passed without a deal.
“Let’s see, is it 3 p.m. yet,” Frazier asked about the 3 p.m. deadline. “If it hasn’t happened, it won’t be happening.”