Jerome Simpson created the highlight of the Minnesota Vikings' 2012 offseason.
With Simpson streaking down the right sideline on one of the many deep routes he ran in June, Christian Ponder lofted up what was essentially a jump ball. Cornerback Chris Cook was in good position, Simpson outjumped Cook and, according to Ponder's version of the play, took the ball right off Cook's helmet.
"It was crazy!" Ponder said. "He plucked it right off the guy's head. That shows me that I can trust him. I can throw it down field and he's going to go make a play."
Ponder and Simpson loved the play and celebrated it. Head coach Leslie Frazier praised it. Now the question is, how often can that be replicated during the regular season and how much chemistry were Ponder and his new deep threat able to put together with four weeks of organized practices?
"We're getting there. It's just all in timing, just being on the same page and just making plays," Simpson said after the final practice of minicamp Thursday. "He's a great guy to communicate with, easygoing. I like being around him."
There was little doubt Ponder was viewed Simpson as his go-to deep guy throughout the last month. He targeted him early and often in seven-on-seven and full-team drills and even bordered on forcing the ball to him when Simpson didn't have the cornerback beat deep. But without doing that in practice, Ponder couldn't test Simpson's limits.
Still, with a three-week suspension looming for Simpson at the start of the regular season – a punishment for violating the NFL's policy and program for substance abuse after several pounds of marijuana were found in Simpson's home last fall – how much will that quarterback-receiver chemistry be intact when Simpson returns for Week 4 of the regular season?
"I think once he gets back we're not going to miss a beat. We just have to have the younger guys step up, which they have the ability to do," Ponder said. "Stevie Burton and Manny (Arceneaux) have done a great job of filling in roles and having Bryan Walters here and (Michael) Jenkins and Devin (Aromashodu), we've got a lot of guys who can fill in those roles. But we will be happy once Jerome gets back."
Simpson said there is no more pressure on him once training camp practices arrive on July 27. Despite the suspension, he will approach practices and preseason games the same.
"I'm just going to still prepare hard. It's not like I'm going to hold anything back just because I'm going to miss three games. I'm going to go out there and give it my all and show this team I need to be there," he said.
Each time Simpson is asked about his role among the receivers, he eschews the notion that he is primarily a deep threat. While there is little doubt he has the speed to fill that role, his statistics and stature show a fairly well-rounded receiver.
At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, he has already shown himself to be a leaper with his catch over Cook. His highlight-reel, upending flip for a touchdown against Arizona last year shows his athleticism and balance. And his 50 catches for 725 yards and four touchdowns last year – all career highs – show his production capabilities.
He has the speed, but he also has the short-area quickness to get open for a quick-hitting pass.
"Whatever (offensive coordinator Bill) Musgrave calls up, I'm going to try to execute it. If it's a deep ball, slant, anything, I'm going to just try to go make a play on it," Simpson said.
"Just being Jerome Simpson, going out there and having fun and playing. I'm pretty sure the coaches are going to put me in the best position to help this team."
Timing might still be an issue. With an offense that can call for multiple route options from a receiver, depending on the defense, communication and repetition with Ponder will be a key, as will the protection and Ponder's decision-making.
"I think understanding the reads and getting the chemistry with the guys, that helps get the ball out so much faster," Ponder said.
For Simpson, there is a lot to get used to. After four years in Cincinnati, this is his first time playing for another NFL team. He is in a different division and different conference with new teammates.
"It's just different pieces. We have a great running back here, a lot of great receivers. It's just different just because you're in a different area, different people," Simpson said. "It's still a great team, though.
"I just want to come and make plays for them and represent the city well."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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