As last season wound to a close, a 3-13 disaster sucking almost every ounce of enthusiasm out of the Vikings’ locker room, head coach Leslie Frazier kept finding new reserves of optimism.
Specifically, Frazier sensed potential for an offensive resurgence in 2012, confident in the system of offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. Frazier repeatedly voiced his confidence in Musgrave and promised to get him additional ammunition.
“I know we’re going to have a quality offense once we get some other pieces in place and have a full offseason,” Frazier said the week before Christmas.
Well over the past three months, the Vikings have added to their offensive depth chart. And there may be no more important piece to the puzzle than receiver Jerome Simpson, signed just days before the draft began in April.
Yes, Matt Kalil, the team’s top draft choice, will be an invaluable addition, stabilizing the offensive line and giving quarterback Christian Ponder greater peace of mind. Yes, tight end John Carlson will help stretch opposing defenses and provide Ponder another reliable target. And yes, those two rookie receivers from Arkansas – Jarius Wright and Greg Childs – have shown flashes of potential.
But Simpson? He’s a speed threat on the outside, the top candidate to start at split end. He provides a dimension that the Vikings’ offense sorely lacked last season. He’s fast. He’s athletic. Best of all, he will be a significant deep threat.
I recently asked Musgrave about Simpson’s worth and the offensive coordinator immediately lit up.
“He’s just what the doctor ordered for the Viking offense,” Musgrave said. “He’s an explosive guy who can really adjust and adapt to the football. And it’s really fun watching him after the catch, which is a skill he demonstrated for the whole league last year when he was with Cincinnati.”
Simpson’s numbers with the Bengals in 2011: 50 catches, 725 yards, four touchdowns.
Even more impressive to Musgrave has been seeing Simpson’s speed firsthand.
“We need somebody with juice like that playing the split end,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to Jerome and our quarterback starting to jell together.”
That juice Musgrave raves about should be invaluable.
“We need to be able to count on somebody from our split end position winning consistently versus man coverage,” Musgrave said. “With the way I think we can run the football, defenses are going to try to take away the run. And we want to make them pay for that through the air.”