EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Jerome Simpson’s unique flair is on exhibit every single play he’s on the field for the Minnesota Vikings, whether the energetic wide receiver is catching a pass or not.
Watch Simpson break the huddle and he runs to his spot along the line of scrimmage. He sprints there and then leaps in the air and gives a little kick of his feet. The maneuver is Simpson’s warning to the defense.
“Just show the defenders that I’m ready and I’m going to be here all day,” Simpson said of his jump and kick routine. “It’s just one of my patents. I’m showing them I’m going to have energy the whole game, so you better come ready.”
Simpson said he’s been doing it since he was in college at Coastal Carolina. The pre-snap preparation, like his usual enthusiasm, was missing last season, another aspect of Simpson’s first season with Minnesota that was sapped because of the back injury he suffered last season.
The spark is back for Simpson this year, literally and figuratively.
“It was just an injury thing,” Simpson said of not performing his trademark jump-and-kick last year. “I just like to be that Energizer Bunny out there and just show that defender I’m not going to get tired. I don’t think you’re ever going to be in better shape than I am.”
Simpson’s exuberance and confidence are back this year, the pain and weakness that spread down to his legs is gone. He’s credited the recovery to a new mattress and he’s shown his explosiveness on the field. He leads the Vikings with 342 receiving yards, which was tied for 24th in the league entering the week. His 18.0 yards per catch is tied for sixth in the NFL with teammate Greg Jennings.
“It reminds us of his first game against Detroit when he was healthy and raring to go and then he battled through that injury,” offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “To his credit, he’s a tough sucker and played the whole year really on one leg.”
Simpson’s first season with Minnesota never really got on track. He missed the first three games because of a suspension dating back to his time with the Cincinnati Bengals. He came back and had one game of full health, finishing with four catches for 50 yards and drawing two big pass interference penalties.
Then he woke up with the leg issues the day of the next game. He tried to play but was ineffective. He missed the next week and all the preseason optimism was gone. He ended up with 26 catches for 274 yards on the season.
“Yeah, (the injury) was holding me down,” Simpson said. “It was holding me down. But it’s not this year and everything’s on the upside and as long as I stay healthy, it’s going to be amazing things going on.”
Simpson is making the plays he and the Vikings thought were coming last year. He had seven catches for 140 yards in Week 1 and had another seven catches for 124 yards in the team’s win in the last game. He has had four catches of 37 yards or longer.
A down season was followed with another stop in free agency for Simpson, who originally signed a one-year deal with Minnesota. The Vikings believed a healthy Simpson could still make a difference and brought him back this season on another one-year contract, even giving him more money into this season.
“I think it’s about his health,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “We saw a little bit of what we’re seeing now in the preseason a year ago, and even in the off-season program. But once he got healthy again, this off-season, we could see a different Jerome. And the fact he’s been in the offense for a year, that helps as well. He has a better understanding of what’s required of him, being around the system, being around the coaches … the coach that’s coaching him, George Stewart. All those factors have gone into it but the biggest factor is him being healthy.”
In the exit interviews last year, Simpson told the team he would come back “starving.”
“Starving equals hungry, so I’m going to come back even more determined and make plays for them,” Simpson said.
Not only does Simpson look different, he sounds different this year. Instead of the frustration that set in last year, he’s upbeat and confident.
“Yeah, this is what I envisioned,” Simpson said. “I know what I can do. I just want to make plays and just help this ball club win games.”
And Simpson will do it with his own flair, enthusiastic with a little jump and kick for added emphasis. As for his pre-snap routine, he said he doesn’t hear comments from opposing defensive backs.
“Nah, because I think it gets them nervous,” Simpson said.
Yep, it’s a different Simpson this time around for the Vikings.