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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