EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — Jerome Simpson has enjoyed strong support from the Minnesota Vikings since they signed the speedy, risky wide receiver this spring.
He's eager to begin paying them back.
Simpson will make his debut on Sunday at Detroit, having served his NFL-issued three-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, stemming from an offseason felony drug conviction tied to a marijuana shipment to his home. He served 15 days in jail.
"Hopefully, me just being fresh, I can just be that little extra spark that we need," Simpson said.
Simpson had a breakout season with 725 yards receiving and four touchdowns for Cincinnati last year, but he barely cracked the lineup with the Bengals his first three seasons. So with an unproven record of performance and the legal trouble he carried, demand on the free-agent market was minimal. The Vikings, though, have been missing that true downfield threat to stretch the defense since Randy Moss was traded in 2005. So signing Simpson to a one-year contract, once they checked out his background and were satisfied with what they heard from his character references, was the quintessential low-risk, high-reward move.
"Just for him to be back out there and to see how he adds to this offense, I'm excited. Especially seeing what he did in the preseason," said running back Adrian Peterson, referring to the track-like hurdle Simpson used to clear a defender during a 33-yard gain in an exhibition game against Buffalo.
Though Simpson will help take some coverage away from do-it-all wide receiver Percy Harvin and give quarterback Christian Ponder someone to throw long to, Peterson ought to benefit the most by Simpson's presence. Because if Simpson can beat man-to-man coverage and scare opposing teams into assigning a safety to help, Peterson should have more room near the line of scrimmage to run.
"Now you have two explosive, dynamic receivers on the field at the same time," wide receivers coach George Stewart said. "Probably the first time since I've been here."
The Lions have noticed.
"We have a lot of respect for him as a player," coach Jim Schwartz said.
Simpson was able to be around the team and attend every meeting during his suspension, but he wasn't able to practice. He biked all over the Twin Cities to stay in shape and find an outlet to keep from being too bored, hung out at home with his bulldog and spoke on the phone with his family to keep his spirits up. But at least during the time he's been with the Vikings, Simpson doesn't appear to need much cheering up. He has brought a boyish enthusiasm to the team, skipping onto the practice field during training camp and riding around on a freestyle bike.
He obviously has a lot of creative, athletic energy he's been itching to channel back to the field.
"Everyone feeds off of that energy," Ponder said. "He's got so much energy that he brings to the table, and he loves being out here."
The key for both Simpson and the Vikings will be not to expect too much too soon. He must prove he can consistently catch the ball — and not simply get open. He'll have to make sure his legs are in shape to run all those deep routes, too. But he's coming on board at a good time, after a big win over San Francisco and with Ponder finding his groove in his second NFL season.
"These guys have done an incredible job. I hope that when I come back (there's) no missteps and I don't put the offense behind," Simpson said. "I just want to keep on rolling and just be that piece to the puzzle that helps this team connect even better."
NOTES: The Vikings ruled starting LB Erin Henderson out for the second straight game because he hasn't yet passed all of his post-concussion tests. ... Ponder, who appeared on the injury report Thursday with a sore neck, fully participated in practice Friday and is listed as probable for the game.
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