Jerome Simpson exuded nothing but positive energy when he came on his free-agent visit to Winter Park on April 21. The speedy receiver, who spent his first four NFL seasons with the Bengals, said he recalled his 2008 pre-draft visit to the Twin Cities and the rapport he felt during interactions with Leslie Frazier (then the defensive coordinator, now the head coach); Rick Spielman (then the vice president of player personnel, now the general manager); and receivers coach George Stewart.
"Great people here," Simpson said. "Great history too. I remember that visit well."
The second time around, Simpson sensed the vibe was even better. But the biggest hurdle to becoming a Viking had little to do with how he felt and everything to do with how Frazier, Spielman and others in the organization felt about him.
Delivering a convincing sales pitch was no easy task, especially after the promising receiver spent 15 days in jail in April after offering a guilty plea to a felony drug charge.
His message to the Vikings?
"Everybody knows that wasn't my character, what happened," Simpson said Wednesday, speaking to local reporters for the first time since signing a one-year contract last week.
Simpson instead asked the Vikings to focus on his gregarious personality and frequent charitable activity.
In addition to meeting with Spielman and Frazier, Simpson also went to lunch with a group of Vikings that included quarterback Christian Ponder, linebacker Jasper Brinkley and defensive end Everson Griffen. Simpson knew that excursion was "to see if I was a good guy and basically to see if I would fit in around here."
In the end, he and the Vikings agreed to what he acknowledged is essentially a one-season "prove it" deal. Now he must prove he has the ability to be a big-time receiving threat. And he must prove he can stay out of trouble.
"You can talk all you want to," Simpson said. "But if you don't prove it, it really doesn't mean a hill of beans."
One thumb down
As an offseason film critic, Ponder has given his 2011 performance a big thumbs down. After completing 54.3 percent of his passes for 1,853 yards and 13 touchdowns with 13 interceptions, Ponder has been horrified watching his rookie struggles.
"There's so much I can do better," he said. "I get so frustrated watching myself from last year. Watching myself skate from the pocket too early and making bad reads and doing pretty dumb stuff. ... It gives me so much confidence that I can be so much better next year."
No hard feelings
Ponder said he and Adrian Peterson both flashed wide grins when the Vikings drafted left tackle Matt Kalil at No. 4 overall last Thursday. Surprisingly, Charlie Johnson, the team's starter at left tackle last year, was similarly enthused, not feeling any resentment toward the rookie who's coming in to take his place.
Kalil's arrival means Johnson will slide to left guard, a move the 28-year-old veteran accepted.
"There is no animosity," Johnson said. "Look, I'm going to play. I feel that I'm one of the best five guys we have in our offensive line room. So I'm going to play. To me it doesn't matter where it's at."
Johnson expressed as much to Frazier and offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, reminding them that he spent the early parts of his career as a swing lineman. Plus, he said Wednesday, his biggest objective is to win.
"Last year was not very good," Johnson said. "I wasn't used to that. And I don't want it to happen again. So if they feel this is the best thing to make our team better, then I'm all for it."
'Ready to go'
As one of 10 Vikings who finished 2011 on injured reserve, Brinkley has felt added energy as he plows through the team's offseason conditioning program. Brinkley missed all of last season after having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right hip.
Now the stage has been cleared for Brinkley to become the starter at middle linebacker, though he might get a small push from free-agent signee Marvin Mitchell and seventh-round pick Audie Cole.
"I'm back totally, 100 percent. Ready to go," Brinkley said. "Any drill the coaches may think of, I can do it. I can do it to the best ability of anybody."
The Vikings waived offensive lineman Butch Lewis and tight end Daniel Hardy.