Simpson returning to ‘first love'

Jerome Simpson is looking forward to playing in the place that started his career, but it's been a rocky road for him on his way to a career year.

Jerome Simpson has no inclination of ill will for his former franchise.

The Cincinnati Bengals are the team that ultimately departed company with Simpson, but he remembers their support on and off the field fondly. Those thoughts came this week as Simpson, now on pace for his best season as a pro with the Minnesota Vikings, prepares to face his old team, coach and teammates.

"Obviously I'm going to be excited to play there just because that's my first love, the Cincinnati Bengals," Simpson said. "I love those coaches out there, my teammates are still there. It's a great organization to play for. I love the Browns (owners of the Bengals). 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 spent the first four years of his NFL career with the Bengals, brought along slowly in the first three seasons after being a second-round draft pick. From 2008-2010, he played in a combined 13 games and started only four of those, catching 21 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns.

In 2011, he had his breakout season. He played in 16 games, starting all but two, and caught 50 passes for 725 yards and four touchdowns. It was going splendidly on the field until he was arrested for having 2½ pounds of marijuana shipped to his Kentucky home in September 2011.

"(The Bengals) offered a lot of support. The first couple years I didn't really play much, and that was because I was behind some great receivers there," Simpson said.

He was sentenced to 15 days in jail, three years of probation, 200 hours of community service and was required to pay a $7,500 fine and court costs after pleading guilty to a prohibited act relating to a controlled substance. Authorities said they found another pound of marijuana inside his house.

"I was probably one of Jerome's biggest supporters," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said this week when asked about the incident. "I'm glad he's doing well."

Last year, the Vikings signed him to a one-year contract and he started the season with his two-game suspension. It was further derailed by a nerve issue that limited his explosiveness upon his return to the field. He played in 12 games, starting 10, but had only 26 catches for 274 yards and no touchdowns. His yards-per-catch average dropped from 14.5 in his final season with the Bengals to 10.5 in his first with the Vikings.

But the Vikings saw his explosiveness and possibilities during the 2012 offseason, before his nerve injury, and knew what he could bring. He had a couple of highlight catches in organized team activities before he ever played a down for the Vikings, similar to his signature moment in the NFL – hurdling over a defender, getting flip into a somersault in the air and landing on his feet for a touchdown.

"It's something I hear every week from fans and everything: ‘You going to do a flip for us this year?' I always tell everyone that's something that just kind of happens. You never can plan anything like that," Simpson said.

"Just jumping over a guy and not meaning to really do it I don't think. 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."

It was a moment that surprised even Lewis. The Bengals head coach called it "one of the most impressive things I've ever seen."

But Simpson got himself into legal trouble again in November when he was charged with third-degree DWI for refusing to submit to a chemical test, a gross misdemeanor, and fourth-degree DWI for operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, a misdemeanor.

"Disappointed because he's a good young man," Lewis said. "You're just disappointed that those things occur and you want him to always understand how important his career has to be."

Through 14 games this year, including seven starts, he is on pace for career highs in catches, yards and average per catch. He currently has 44 receptions for 698 yards and a 15.7-yard average.

Despite being passed on the depth chart by rookie Cordarrelle Patterson since Simpson's legal troubles, a seven-catch, 37-yard day in Cincinnati would give him a career year in the place he was given his first chance.

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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