When undrafted free agents historically have come to their first NFL camp, many teams use tape and a Sharpie to put their names on the front of their helmets so coaches know who everyone is. You get the impression that much of the same is happening in the Vikings wide receiver room.
Of the 12 wide receivers currently on the Vikings roster, only three of them – Jerome Simpson, Stephen Burton and Jarius Wright – were on the 53-man roster last year. None of them played in all 16 games and the three combined to be active for just 31 games.
It was clear that there were changes coming after the Vikings traded away Percy Harvin, but the turnover has been as significant as any season in recent Vikings history. As Simpson prepares for the 2013 season, he's become a veteran leader of the receiver room in just his second year with the team. When asked about the turnover, he seemed a bit surprised by the number of new faces in the receiver room, but said that there is more experience than might meet the eye.
"It is different, but the number isn't as bad as that sounds," Simpson said. "Joe (Webb) knows the offense, but wasn't in the wide receiver room until this year. Greg (Childs) wasn't on the active roster last year, but he was learning along the way. For those of us that were here last year – Jarius, Stephen and myself – we've tried to help the young guys feel comfortable and help them out wherever we can."
Simpson credits the approach of receivers coach George Stewart for the melding together of the varied personalities among the receiver group and believes his style of handling players – from Cris Carter to Randy Moss to Harvin – has been essential for the Vikings to have success from their receiver corps.
"Coach Stewart does a great job of getting all the receivers together and bonding as a group," Simpson said. "We're a pretty tight-knit group and we've all been able to work together as a unit, whether we're running with the first team, the second team or the third team. He brings us together and I think that shows out on the field."
After the trade of Harvin and release of Michael Jenkins, who was second on the team behind Harvin in receptions by a wide receiver, it seemed as though wide receiver could potentially be a glaring weakness on the 2013 Vikings. But that changed in a big way and in a big hurry.
The team re-signed Simpson early in the offseason. The biggest splash the team made in free agency was to sign Greg Jennings away from division rival Green Bay. Then their embarrassment of riches in the first round of the draft got even more pronounced when they traded back into the first round to select Cordarrelle Patterson. With Jennings and Patterson providing firepower, Wright looking much more comfortable as a slot receiver and Simpson expecting to come back strong, suddenly what was perceived as a weakness in March is quickly becoming a strength.
"We have a lot of weapons out there," Simpson said. "We have a bunch of guys who can make plays and we can mix it up a lot. Greg has a lot of talent and experience. You saw what Cordarrelle could do when he got his opportunity Friday night. Jarius is looking a lot better. I'm feeling a lot better and I'm ready to make plays. We can go with four wide receivers. We can go with two tight ends. There are a lot of things we can do because we have guys with different strengths that we can use."
In the process, Simpson hopes to be the player that the Vikings expected him to be last year. Between a suspension early in the season and leg weakness that had him concerned after he returned, 2012 wasn't the kind of season he wanted or expected.
"It was disappointing because I wanted to do more," Simpson said. "I know I'm capable of making big plays and being a player who can help us win games. I didn't feel like I played up to the level I'm capable of. I'm feeling great right now and hope that I can be that player for our offense this year."
The biggest attribute the Vikings wide receivers could have this year is creating the threat of the big play – whether it's a bomb to Simpson or Patterson, a quick-hitting slant to Wright or an intermediate crossing pass to Jennings. With the weaponry at Christian Ponder's disposal, the main beneficiary may be Adrian Peterson, who had defenses loading up the box last year. Simpson believes if the receivers can do their job, A.P. may be on his way to another MVP season, but this time having some help from the supporting cast.
"It's going to be big for us to show up this year," Simpson said. "If we do that, it will help take that extra guy out of the box and help Adrian do his thing. It will be fun and make our offense better."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
WR corps ‘tight-knit' despite the new faces
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