Notebook: Coach says Jerome Simpson still impacted by back injury
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Wide receiver Jerome Simpson has been one of the Minnesota Vikings' biggest disappointments this season, catching only 15 passes for 176 yards and no touchdowns in nine games.
Simpson signed a one-year, $2 million free-agent contract with the Vikings last spring after having 50 receptions for 725 yards and four touchdowns in 2011 with Cincinnati.
The Vikings' hope was that Simpson would provide them with a vertical threat and during the offseason there were rave reviews about Simpson's chemistry with Christian Ponder.
So what has gone wrong?
Simpson woke up on the morning of the Vikings' game against Tennessee on Oct. 7 with weakness and numbness in his lower leg. The problem was believed to be tied to an issue with a disc in Simpson's back.
Simpson, who sat out the first three games of the season while serving a suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, did not play on Oct. 14 at Washington. He has played in every game since, but hasn't had more than three catches in a single game.
Simpson dropped three passes on Nov. 25 in Chicago.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said Thursday that Simpson isn't where he was before the injury and confirmed the issue is still impacting the veteran.
"You can't get around the injury," Frazier said. "It definitely has had an effect on his play. We're doing the best we can, he's doing the best he can and that play he made on the slant in (last Sunday's) game in the fourth quarter, that was a big play for us. We're going to need him to make some plays for us this Sunday. Give us whatever he can."
While Simpson might have made an important catch last Sunday in the Vikings' victory over the Bears, it was also the only reception he had in the game. That's not exactly the return the Vikings were looking for on a guy who is making $59,375 for every game in which he is on the 46-man game day roster.
Frazier said Simpson's speed has been impacted, as well as his ability to plant and cut coming out of his breaks. "You can see he's not as crisp as he was before that injury," Frazier said.
Frazier did not dismiss the impact this has had on Simpson.
"I think it has to have some affect when you can't do some of the things you could do before an injury," he said. "It has to have some affect and it can be very frustrating for any athlete. He's fought through it, he's tried to prepare as best he could every week to go out and help us. He has. That catch he made on Sunday, that was a big-time catch for us. Sure it's frustrating for him. Without question."
As for the future, Frazier said he hasn't been told by doctors that Simpson will require offseason back surgery to fix the issue.
Count Vikings defensive end Jared Allen among those who finds the NFL's idea of expanding the postseason field by two to four teams to be a bad one.
"That's stupid," Allen said. "I think that's a dumb idea. The reason our league is so much better than other leagues is because of that competition. Every game means something. There are 162 games in baseball and no one really watches until the end. Basketball is the same way. There's no real significance on every game. ...
"Our games become less significant each week if you know that, 'I can still lose half my games and sneak into the playoffs.' Now your division becomes not as important and stuff like that. I think the way our system is (right now) is great."
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday that the league's competition committee will explore expanding the playoff field from 12 to 14 or 16 participants. A 16-team field would have meant four 8-8 teams would have made the postseason in 2011 instead of one. The Denver Broncos went 8-8 and made it because they won the AFC West.
"I think we should go back towards more what the fundamental basis of what football was and with all these changes it's not necessarily always a good thing," Allen said. "I know it probably is for owners, they make more money, and TV and all that good stuff.
"But at some point the identity of our league and what it stands on and why it's so good is because every game means something. It's tough. I've been on teams that were 10-6 and you didn't get in (the playoffs). But that motivated you for next year to try to win 11."
Cornerback A.J. Jefferson was cleared to return to practice on Thursday after suffering a concussion in last Sunday's victory over Chicago. Jefferson was limited in the session and, if all goes according to plan, he will start on Sunday at St. Louis, Frazier said.
Peterson should return to the field Friday - he was limited in Wednesday's practice - and should be fine for Sunday. The Vikings did some tests on Peterson's abdomen because he did have some soreness but it was determined there was nothing to be concerned about.
Frazier said the Vikings also wanted to get Peterson some rest after he had a career-high 31 carries last Sunday. Winfield has been limited in practice for much of the season to give him some rest, but Frazier did say the veteran's knee was a little sore.
Linebacker Jasper Brinkley (shoulder), guard Charlie Johnson (ankle), tackle Phil Loadholt (knee) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (shoulder) were limited in Thursday's practice for the Vikings. Defensive end Jared Allen (shoulder), safety Robert Blanton (neck), defensive tackle Letroy Guion (shin) and punter Chris Kluwe (left knee, right groin) were on the injury report but did not miss any practice time.
Cornerback Courtland Finnegan (ankle) and linebacker James Laurinaitis (back) did not practice for the Rams on Thursday. Running back Steven Jackson (foot), tight end Mike McNeill (thigh) and wide receiver Danny Amendola (foot) were limited. Safety Craig Dahl (head), center Scott Wells (knee) linebacker Mario Haggan (elbow) did not miss any time.
The Vikings are 1-5 on the road this season entering Sunday. Allen, for one, doesn't have an explanation for the record. "If you find out let me know," he said when asked why the Vikings are struggling away from the Metrodome. "I try to do the same things at home or on the road. So if you've got a magic ball let me know and I'll tell the guys to change some stuff up. I think we just have got to go out and focus and get done what we need to get done. I really don't have an answer for you."