Back to health, receiving options deeper

With Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright and John Carlson back to health, the Vikings believe Christian Ponder will have more consistent receiving options at his disposal.

When it comes to the Vikings passing game, the focus from draft weekend forward has been on the "Big Three" Vikings receivers – Kyle Rudolph, Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson. But if the Vikings are going to succeed in 2013, it may be just important to get contributions from the "Other Three" – Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright and John Carlson.

At training camp Tuesday, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave discussed the roles that Simpson, Wright and Carlson are expected to have this season and how important they could be to the success of the Vikings offense.

Musgrave praised the monumental task that wide receivers coach George Stewart has faced. Of the 12 wide receivers in training camp, 75 percent of them are new to Stewart and the Vikings offense, which has led to a lot of individual instruction and overtime for Stewart and his assistants.

"Coach Stewart has work cut out for him," Musgrave said. "Nine of the 12 fellows in that room are new to Coach Stewart. They've never been in a training camp with him before. He and (quality control-offense coach) Clint Kubiak are working overtime getting those guys up to speed. You can see it out there. They're improving every day."

When the Vikings signed Simpson last year, they knew he would be missing the first three games due to a league suspension, but he provided the Wow Factor in the preseason, making big plays deep down the field that had Vikings fans optimistic that he could be the downfield threat the team needed to complement the running of Adrian Peterson and the defensive attention Percy Harvin would garner. But in his third game back, Simpson suffered numbness in his leg that bothered him most of the season. A year later, Simpson is healthy and Musgrave is excited about his prospects.

"He does look like he's moving better," Musgrave said. "It was the Tennessee game – the fifth game (last year) – where he had his injury. From then on, it was really a challenge for him to get up to full speed. He looks to be full speed this summer."

While we're still a month away from the start of the regular season, Musgrave is seeing the same Simpson that he saw last year in the preseason. With the ability to change speeds and set up defenders, Musgrave believes the Vikings have another big-play weapon at the disposal of Christian Ponder.

"It definitely helps," the offensive coordinator said. "He's doing a better job of getting separation. We can gauge his speed better for our quarterbacks, especially when he's himself."

Injuries also played a role with Carlson, which turned his first season with the Vikings into an unqualified disaster. Carlson was brought in to give the Vikings the potential for two play-making tight ends, but an injury in training camp left Carlson behind and he never got fully incorporated into the offense, catching just eight passes for 43 yards in 14 games.

A year later, Carlson is making big plays in practice and the hope is to work Carlson into the 2013 offense in a way that was expected in 2012. He gives the offense another layer of versatility and Musgrave envisions the Vikings being able to shake things up offensively to give defenses different looks and create mismatch problems.

"We're able to really mix and match better," Musgrave said. "We've got our concepts that we believe in and hang our hat on, but with John being healthy, he can go in there and do some of the concepts that we do with three wide receivers and we can go with two tight ends and two receivers instead. We feel like we don't fall off very far if any."

Injuries also played a role in Wright's rookie season last year. Injured against the Texans in the final preseason game last year, Wright was inactive for the first nine games and his work was done with the scout team. But when Harvin went down with his high ankle sprain, Wright not only took his place but was a productive receiver – catching 22 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns.

A year later, Wright is ready to make a much bigger contribution to the Vikings offense and Musgrave is praising both his talent and his work ethic.

"Jarius is so sharp and is such in a leader in that room," Musgrave said. "He's done a fantastic job outside the numbers as well as in the slot. He looks quick. His weight is exactly where it needs to be. The bottom line with Jarius is that he knows what to do all the time. He can help the other guys in that room with all the new faces in the receiver room – he helps them in the meeting room, in the drills and also when they break the huddle."

Wright is only is his second season, but is quickly becoming a team leader among the receivers and leading by example – on the field, in practice, in the meeting rooms and in film study.

"He has tremendous instincts," Musgrave said. "He's a professional. Studying his stuff, he's just a man's man. You can count on him every day and we're lucky to have him."

As the preseason schedule begins on Friday, much of the focus will be on the Big Three receivers that get most of the media attention. But when all is said and done, the level of success the Vikings have this season may depend much more on the production of the Other Three – who are healthy and heading into 2013 with something to prove.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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