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Updated: September 24th, 2012 5:29pm
Zulgad: Teammates confident that Jerome Simpson will make a difference

Zulgad: Teammates confident that Jerome Simpson will make a difference

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Percy Harvin didn't attempt to temper expectations Sunday when asked about the return of fellow Minnesota Vikings receiver Jerome Simpson from his three-game NFL suspension.

"Let's party," Harvin said. "It's another weapon. We'll welcome him back. It's something for us to keep going, for us to keep going we need all our weapons."

On Monday, Christian Ponder was given an opportunity to calm the masses when the subject of Simpson's return was broached. The quarterback didn't take it.

"It's going to be big," Ponder said of Simpson's return. "Obviously, he's a good player and he's just going to add another dimension to this offense. We've obviously done well without him, but he will make us better when he gets back.

"We built a great connection all through preseason and he's been working out and everything. (He has been) staying in shape. I think he'll have a pretty early impact once he gets out there."

Perhaps Harvin and Ponder really expect Simpson's availability will make the Vikings' virtually nonexistent vertical passing game a viable threat beginning Sunday in Detroit. Or maybe, the two players are simply holding out hope that that will be the case.

The Vikings have surprised many with their 2-1 start -- a 24-13 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday was one of the biggest upsets in the NFL this young season -- but one area where they have had little impact is getting the ball downfield.

Of Ponder's 97 passes, only four have traveled father than 20 yards in the air. Ponder's longest pass play was a 29-yard completion.

So, is Simpson confident he will be able to accomplish what the likes of Michael Jenkins, Devin Aromashodu and Stephen Burton have not? If he is, he certainly wasn't willing to say it Monday.

And unlike Harvin and Ponder, Simpson jumped at the opportunity to manage expectations.

"We've just got to stay in the game plan and just win ballgames," he said. "It doesn't matter if we're throwing short passes or long passes. We've have just got to execute the game plan and just win ballgames."

Simpson will be happy simply to be back on a football field come Sunday afternoon.

By now, his troubles have been well documented.

Simpson pleaded guilty last March 1 to a felony charge that was the result of approximately 2 pounds of marijuana being shipped to his home in Northern Kentucky. He ended up spending 15 days in jail and also was sentenced to three years' probation.

But as Simpson was having issues off the field, he also was putting together a solid season on it. He caught a career-high 50 passes for 725 yards with four touchdowns in 16 games and 14 starts in his fourth season with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Simpson's longest catch of the season went for 84 yards and he had one of the NFL's most memorable plays of the year in Week 16 when he did a front flip over Arizona Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington to get into the end zone.

The Vikings took notice of Simpson's production and after meeting with him and clearing up concerns about his character, they signed him to a one-year, $2 million deal last April that included an initial roster bonus of $950,000.

The only thing was Simpson had to sit out the first three games for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

"I couldn't wait until Monday morning came just because I was so excited," said Simpson, who caught three passes for 43 yards in the preseason with the Vikings. "I know that everything has passed (and) is behind me now. Hopefully this is the last time I've got to talk about the suspension."

After working out with the Vikings during the offseason and training camp, Simpson spent the past three Sundays in his house watching his new team play. It wasn't easy and Simpson admits he wasn't calm.

"I screamed the whole time, I was just like a fan," said Simpson, who also sat out the final two preseason games. "Maybe even worse than a real fan. It was just me and my French Bulldog. I was kind of there by myself most of the time because I was getting too riled up for him. But, yes, I was into the game the whole time and I hate the commercial breaks. Hate those."

Simpson, 26, won't have to worry about sitting through commercial breaks any longer. What he will have to concern himself with is getting back into game shape as quickly as possible.

NFL rules enabled Simpson to spend time at Winter Park during his suspension and he was eligible to sit in on all team meetings. The only thing Simpson could not do was practice with his teammates. That officially changed Monday and Simpson will take part in his first regular-season practice when the Vikings begin preparations for Detroit on Wednesday.

"I think I'm pretty good on the playbook and everything," Simpson said. "But it's still just hearing it called by Christian and going out there and doing it. But I think I'll be OK because I was able to hear the plays and see them run in practice on film (during meetings)."

Simpson realizes that not having had contact in a few weeks means he likely will be very sore by next Monday morning after taking a pounding in Detroit. "I've just got to get my body prepared for that," he said.

Coach Leslie Frazier knows that won't be simple.

"That's going to be a little bit of a challenge for him, the contact part of it, wearing the pads again, the speed of the game," Frazier said. "But the good thing is he's a veteran player who has been in the league for a while. But it's still different when you've been away from it now for the period of time that he has.

"So we'll just kind of have to see how he does in practice and that will probably determine how much we'll get him involved early in the game. But we've got to bring him along. We want to utilize his gifts and we definitely want to be able to take advantage of his talents."

While Simpson is known for his athleticism, Ponder said what impressed him the most was the football-intelligence the receiver possesses and his ability to get open. Harvin possesses the same skill set.

This could present issues for the Lions' 20th-ranked pass defense provided Simpson can work himself into the mix in timely fashion after only a few days back at practice.

"These guys have done an incredible job," he said. "I hope that when I come back (there are) no missteps and I don't put the offense behind anything. I just want to keep on rolling and just be that piece to the puzzle that helps this team connect even better."

Unlike when he was yelling at his television set at home, Simpson also knows he will have to maintain his calm when he's in uniform.

"I've got to keep my poise and everything," he said. "I'm pretty sure I'm going to be excited, but once I catch that first ball and that first play I'll be right back in the groove." 

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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