Jerome Simpson has never had a 1,000-yard season and he's never been a No. 1 receiver on an NFL team.
The first milestone isn't that important to him, but he believes he has the skills to accomplish the second descriptor.
"I have a skill set to be a great receiver. It doesn't matter if I'm one or two or three. It's just me going out there and executing and being the best player I can be," Simpson said Thursday after reporting to the Minnesota Vikings training camp for the first time after spending his first four NFL seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. "I've had some great teachers – Chad Johnson, Ochocinco back to Johnson now, Terrell Owens, Laveranues Coles, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Chris Henry, rest in peace. I've just had a lot of people to learn from and kind of build my foundation."
Some of those receivers were also ahead of him on the depth chart in Cincinnati. In his first three seasons, Simpson played in only 13 games and started eight. Last year, however, he started 14 of 16 games and had easily the best year of his career, catching 50 passes for 725 yards and four touchdowns.
"Last season I just got my first chance to start and prove myself and this year it's going to be even better because the game is slowing down to me," he said. "The game is just slowing down to me. I understand it a lot better. I can see coverages and see what the defense is trying to do to me better. It's basically just going out there and executing and just being Jerome Simpson."
With a 14.5 yards-per catch average last year, Simpson proved he can be a deep threat. He also showed that when he made the highlight catch of the Vikings offseason, leaping over cornerback Chris Cook for a diving reception about 40 yards downfield.
But speed has never been a problem for Simpson. This offseason, he was focused on improving his short and intermediate routes, using an outside receivers coach when he was away from the Vikings, as well as a conditioning coach in Ohio.
"This year I just kind of focused on the basics and improving my game – my short and quick game because I have the long game down and now it's just me getting out of my breaks and getting smoother," he said.
Simpson signed a one-year contract with the Vikings in March that could be worth up to $2 million. He and quarterback Christian Ponder established a quick and obvious rapport during organized team activities and minicamp.
"It's really a great experience just to be around these guys and be able to just be out here and competing and seeing everybody's talents," Simpson said.
"(Ponder is) a funny guy. It's just so easy to just be around him and kind of know what he wants to do. The guy, he's just fun to be around. He always wants to compete and I love the competitiveness in him."
After a receiving corps last year that included Percy Harvin catching 87 passes for 967 yards and six touchdowns and no one else producing even half that number of catches or yards, Ponder could use the extra firepower in the receiving corps. However, Simpson won't be available for the first three games of the regular season because of a suspension stemming from his possession of marijuana last year. While that will impact him in September, the Vikings don't plan on limiting him to start the preseason.
"We're going to keep him in and let him take reps, but at some point we'll have to pare it back because we're not, as you mentioned, going to have him in those first three games," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "So we'll have to start getting ready the guys that are going to play in those first three games, get those guys ready, but early on we want to make sure he has a good grasp of our offense and what we're asking him to do."
Said Simpson of the suspension: "Yeah, it sucks, but I think it's a little bit to my advantage because I'll get to go back and I'll see the preseason games and know what I need to work on and I'll be fresh coming back after those three weeks. Some of the guys, they'll be banged up or they'll have injuries, so I can use that to my advantage."
Despite his improved statistics last year and his new opportunity with the Vikings this year, Simpson said there is one thing that matters to him most.
"I just want to win. I don't care if I have one catch and we win, then I'm happy," he said. "I just want to bring something here that hasn't been here before. I think you all know what that is – it's a Super Bowl. That's my No. 1 goal."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Simpson confident in skills, eager for chance
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