Jarius Wright could play this week as Vikings look to diversify attack
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings won't have starting split end Jerome Simpson back until next week. But another receiver who could help diversify the passing game is expected to make his regular-season NFL debut on Sunday.
Rookie Jarius Wright, who hasn't played since spraining his left ankle in the Aug. 30 preseason finale at Houston, made it through practice last week in good shape and appears to have a good chance for playing this week against San Francisco.
"We'll know better after (Wednesday)'s practice," coach Leslie Frazier said. "But he was getting better at the end of the week. So, and everything in talking with (head athletic trainer) Eric Sugarman and our staff, we think he'll be ready this week."
Simpson is eligible to return from his three-game substance-abuse suspension on Monday and is the best vertical threat on the Vikings' roster. But Wright, the fourth-round draft pick out of Arkansas who mostly was used in the slot during camp, brings some speed himself.
He was clocked as low as 4.39 seconds in the 40-dash at February's scouting combine and has the quickness to make up for some of his lacking size (5-10, 180 pounds). Before getting hurt at Houston, Wright had six catches for 122 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown.
"If he is (ready) and he's able to get up, we'd like to utilize his abilities," Frazier said. "We think he has some talent and he could give us something. So, we'll see. We'll see how he practices this week and make a decision."
The Vikings mostly have relied on short to intermediate passes in their first two games. Christian Ponder has completed 75.8% of his passes for 515 yards, two touchdowns and a 110.6 rating without an interception, but his longest completion to a receiver is 26 yards.
In Sunday's loss to Indianapolis, the Vikings' long gain through the air was 20 yards and only three of Ponder's 39 throws (7.7%) were targeted at least 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, none of them complete.
"You'd like to get some explosives," Frazier said. "We talk about it all the time. That does help when you're trying to put points on the board. It takes a little bit off the offense and really challenges the defense when it happens."
Percy Harvin has 18 receptions for 188 yards, compared to 13 catches for 175 yards combined between Michael Jenkins, Devin Aromashodu and Stephen Burton. And on several occasions where Ponder did look downfield against the Colts, no one was open.
"That's one thing we're lacking is big plays and obviously, we want to strive to get better at, to make those progressions of making those plays," Ponder said. "But we're not going to force things downfield and we're just going to keep taking what a defense gives us."
Aromashodu defended the group on Wednesday, though, saying they "feel like we're doing a good job. As long as we've called on, we've been making plays. So, I think if we just continue to keep doing that, things will eventually work out for us."
Asked if there are more vertical opportunities out there, Aromashodu said, "There may be some out there. But we can only go with what's being called. If the opportunity's given, we try to go and make the play."
The 49ers have one of the NFL's best defenses but have allowed two completions of 40-plus yards in wins over Green Bay and Detroit and uncharacteristically have forced only two turnovers.
"On pretty much every play, there's options to go downfield," Ponder said. "If we get in a certain look from a defense, we will take the shot. But right now, we're not getting those certain looks."