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Updated: June 20th, 2012 6:26pm
Notebook: Vikings making plans for Jerome Simpson's absence

Notebook: Vikings making plans for Jerome Simpson's absence

by Judd Zulgad and Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- With wide receiver Jerome Simpson suspended for the first three games of the regular season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, the Vikings are going to find themselves in an interesting situation come training camp.

Simpson, who signed a one-year, $2 million free-agent contract with the Vikings in April after four years with the Cincinnati Bengals, will be counted on to play a key role in the offense this season and will need work to get ready. He is eligible to take part in training-camp practices and preseason games.

However, the Vikings also are going to have to get other wide receivers, such as rookie Greg Childs, prepared to play during Simpson's absence. (Simpson pleaded guilty to a felony drug charge March 1 after law enforcement officials tracked a shipment of more than 2 pounds of marijuana to his home in Kentucky last September.)

"That's the quandary and we've talked about it as a staff," offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said Wednesday on the second day of the Vikings' mandatory minicamp. "I know Leslie (Frazier) has addressed it with us, and we want to have a good plan in place to not only get Jerome comfortable with our system but to get his understudy or his stand in ready for those first three weeks.

"So we'll have a plan in place where both those guys can get adequate work in those preseason games, all four of them, but also plan for his absence. That's going to be a tough obstacle to overcome but we have a plan to do it."

Wide receivers coach George Stewart is confident the Vikings will have options at split end during Simpson's absence.

"Michael Jenkins started for us last year before he hurt a knee," Stewart said. "Veteran guy, able to stretch a defense. He made some plays for us last year. Emmanuel Arceneaux is really doing well. Hopefully, we can have two or three. Greg Childs, he has a ways to go, he's a rookie, but they're going through that fire."

Musgrave, meawhile, has been pleased with Simpson's performance in the offseason program. That includes a highlight-reel catch over cornerback Chris Cook during the Organized Team Activities.

"He's really done a good job of immersing himself in the system," Musgrave said. "It's distinctly different than the Cincinnati system, and we've got him playing our X position, the split end, and he's done a great job of really knowing what to do and then doing it at a high level."

Simpson had a career-high 50 receptions for 725 yards and four touchdowns last season with Cincinnati.

Coming together

The Vikings will have a reworked offensive line this season, with first-round pick Matt Kalil taking over at left tackle, Charlie Johnson moving to left guard and Brandon Fusco possibly starting at right guard.

Only center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt will return to the positions they played last season.

"We've really had a good spring," Musgrave said of the line. "Those guys have started to gell, the five guys that have been playing. We haven't had Geoff Schwartz out there until (Tuesday). He got a few snaps at the end of the period in two minute (at right guard).

"But when you talk about the right side with Brandon Fusco and Phil, (they are) very physical, very physical and explosive. And the left side is really going to be fun to watch with Charlie at left guard and our rookie at left tackle."

Fusco, who is 6-4, 306 pounds, was selected as a center in the sixth round of the 2011 draft out of Slippery Rock.

"He's really worked hard," Musgrave said. "In fact, early in the offseason he went to Pennsylvania and worked out with some of his buddies on the Steelers being that he's from Slippery Rock. He came back to engage in our program. We're very excited about his future."

Evaluation process

Alan Williams, who was hired as the Vikings defensive coordinator in January after serving as the defensive backs coach for the Indianapolis Colts for 10 seasons, is still learning the personnel with his new team.

One way he has been doing this in minicamp is by rotating the safeties in an effort to see different guys play together. This has enabled Williams and defensive backs coach Joe Woods to get a better idea of what they have at a spot where the Vikings struggled last season.

"I'm still in the evaluation process and Coach Woods is still in that same process of evaluating the guys and seeing who can play," Williams said. "It takes time to figure out who a guy is.

"We don't have a lot of guys with a ton of experience, so what we're trying to do is put them in situations, see how they function, see how they practice, see if they can be consistent and then we'll make some decisions down the road. But right now, for me, it's still the evaluation process."

Williams also talked about his desire to utilize the Vikings' defensive depth in 2012.

"This is Minnesota and I heard there's great hockey here," he said. "We'd like to have a hockey lineup. When one group comes out, the next group comes in. We fully expect the guys that are in there, that they'll play hard, that they'll hustle and they'll be productive. So, we look to have maybe eight guys that have significant reps in the lineup."

Mystery injury

Last week, Frazier said Jasper Brinkley missed practice because of a groin injury. On Tuesday, Brinkley said the issue actually is his surgically repaired hip, which caused him to miss all of last season.

Frazier reiterated on Wednesday the Vikings indeed are treating Brinkley's groin but admitted "it does definitely make you a little concerned" to go through minicamp without a young player projected as a full-time starter.

"We didn't want to create a situation where it became something that was going to be nagging him during the time that we're away from football," Frazier said, referring to the five-week break before players report to Mankato for training camp on July 26.

"So, we've held him out of this mandatory minicamp. We believe that he'll be ready to go when training camp begins. But with our depth at linebacker, it is something that you have to think about from my standpoint. But you can't make him go out there and practice if you know it's going to create some issues for him health-wise."

McKenzie's shot?

In Brinkley's place with the first-team base defense, the Vikings have been using practice-squad holdover Tyrone McKenzie, who often was seen speaking with Frazier after practice last season.

"It wasn't always positive conversations, I can tell you that," Frazier said, chuckling. "But Tyrone works hard. He works hard and he's been practicing he's trying to do the right things and for him, like a lot of our players, when we put the pads on we'll find out who they are."

At age 26, McKenzie has appeared in only three NFL games (with Tampa Bay in 2010) but is rather well-traveled.

He played college football at Michigan State, Iowa State and South Florida, where he transferred to be closer to his widowed mother. He was a third-round pick (97th overall) by New England in 2009 but tore an ACL in rookie camp never played there.

"We have that idea about his effort and the way he's going to practice," Frazier said. "But we've got to see him with pads on and see how he does with our system on this impression."

Erin Henderson and Chad Greenway have taken all the first-team nickel reps, as they're expected to during the season.

Short at receiver

Stephen Burton was diagnosed with pneumonia after dropping out of Tuesday's practice with breathing issues.

Then, receiver Bryan Walters turned his left ankle during practice on Wednesday, leaving the Vikings significantly short-handed at receiver.

Percy Harvin is recovering from shoulder surgery, hasn't participated in team drills and didn't show for the afternoon practice, hours after his trade request became public. Also, Kerry Taylor hasn't been practicing because of a broken finger.

On the plus side, Childs -- hobbled by a calf strain since rookie camp -- completed practice for a second consecutive day.

Frazier said Childs is "(s)till a little bit behind from a conditioning standpoint because of the time he's missed and also catching up to what we're doing schematically. But you can see the physical talent in the fact that he's able to get in and out of cuts."

Defense's day

The afternoon practice began outdoors before lighting struck within view of the field, sending players into screams of mock terror and moving the rest of practice into the fieldhouse.

The defense mostly ruled the day. Chris Carr intercepted a Joe Webb pass on a go route for Michael Jenkins during one team (11-on-11) drill. Later, Corey Gatewood intercepted Sage Rosenfels.

A handful of other passes were deflected, and practice ended with Lex Hilliard being stopped short of the first-down marker in a move-the-ball drill designed to mirror a situation that could come up under the NFL's altered overtime rules.

Though coaches continued to substitute liberally in the secondary, rookies Harrison Smith and Josh Robinson got significant action with the first unit.

Quick hits

• Safety Eric Frampton returned to practice after sitting out on Tuesday because of an illness.

• Halfback Adrian Peterson (knee) once again went through rehab work on the side.

• Vikings owner/president Mark Wilf watched part of practice from the sideline.

• Minicamp wraps with a morning practice on Thursday. Red-zone work will be a focus, Frazier said.

• Former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber, who recently retired after spending time with the St. Louis Rams last season, was at Winter Park on Wednesday to watch the afternoon practice.

Dean Berhow-Goll contributed.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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