Vikings veterans have their favorites in camp so far

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 4, 2012 - 11:14 PM

There have been surprising standouts in Mankato, and that's not lost on experienced players.

MANKATO - "Who looks good at Vikings camp?"

It's the question that's asked most often and yet has no definitive answer. The signs of beauty, or lack thereof, are in the eyes of each sweaty, tired, sunburnt, my-back-is-killing-me training camp observer.

Through the first week of practices, we can tell you that starting quarterback Christian Ponder looks more comfortable. That tight end Kyle Rudolph has 10-foot fishing nets for hands. That running back Jordan Todman was quick and fast before he was injured and temporarily out. That backup quarterbacks Joe Webb and Sage Rosenfels are developing quite a chemistry with the defensive backfield.

Opinions are based on head-turning snapshots from a daily practice that includes 90 players and lasts about 2 hours, 15 minutes. Reporters have their thoughts, but we decided to give 16 of the team's veterans a crack at this. So we asked them, "If you had to pick ONE player who has turned your head the most so far in camp, who would it be and why?"

No clichs about how we're all working to get better (yawn). No multiple selections. Pick a guy and go. Here are the results:

The winner: Jerome Simpson, receiver

Votes: 6 (left guard Charlie Johnson, punter Chris Kluwe, linebacker Chad Greenway, defensive tackle Kevin Williams, running back Toby Gerhart, safety Eric Frampton).

If one thing is clear from Week 1, it's this: Simpson is popular among new veteran teammates who know all too well what it's like to try and win in the NFL without a deep threat.

"He's fast," Johnson said. "I watched the clip on TV [Wednesday] when he did the double move on that deep ball. Not only just the speed to get away, but the way he sold the double move. The safeties bit on it and it was just over from there. Over."

Frampton was the last veteran to cast his vote. He couldn't help but ask for the tally.

"I'm guessing Simpson is leading, right?" Frampton said. "Yeah, Simpson's the guy so far, for sure."

Second place: Tie, Ponder and cornerback Reggie Jones

Votes: 3 apiece (Rudolph, Simpson and receiver Percy Harvin voted for Ponder; linebacker Erin Henderson, cornerback Chris Cook and safety Jamarca Sanford voted for Jones).

Perhaps you've heard of Ponder, so we'll brush over him quickly.

"You can tell he's going to be a leader," Simpson said. "Just you wait and see."

Now, about that other fella, who isn't exactly a household name, even among teammates.

"Who's turned my head the most?" Henderson asked. "The kid, Reggie. What's his last name?"

Jones.

"Yeah, yeah, Jones," Henderson said. "Reg is making splash plays around the ball out there."

Jones is a 6-foot, 195-pounder from Portland State. He joined the Saints as an undrafted rookie in 2009 but spent that Super Bowl-winning season on injured reserve. He also spent part of the 2010 season on the Redskins' practice squad before joining the Vikings' practice squad for eight games last season.

Jones' biggest admirer is Sanford, who often can be heard yelling, "I see you, Reg!" from the sideline when the backups are on the field.

"Keep an eye on Reggie," Sanford said. "I watched him in OTAs. I watched his body develop. You can tell he's a hard worker because in OTAs, he came in and was slimmed down. You can see his abs this year."

Jones laughed when he heard the last part.

"Actually, I stayed the same weight," he said. "But my body fat last year was 10 percent. Last time I got it checked, it was 3 percent."

Also-rans: Undrafted rookie cornerback Bobby Felder, receiver and rookie fourth-round pick Greg Childs and rookie left tackle Matt Kalil, the fourth overall draft pick

Votes: 1 apiece.

Cornerback Zack Bowman on Felder: "Did I know who Bobby Felder was before this? No. He went to Nicholls State. But the kid is getting better every day."

Offensive tackle Phil Loadholt voted for Childs, while Jones picked Cook and guard Geoff Schwartz selected Kalil.

"Off the top of my head, I think you have to go with Matt," Schwartz said. "Considering the expectations that are on his shoulders, he's my pick. He's showing why he was a high draft pick."

Actually, we polled a 17th veteran who proved to be wise beyond his 24 years.

"I don't know," Ponder said when asked for his ONE person. "I think there are several guys, especially on the offensive side."

Ponder then went on to name his blind-side protector (Kalil) and his top three receiving threats (Rudolph, Harvin and Simpson).

"I think it's been great to have Jerome here," Ponder said. "I think he's pushing Percy a little bit. I think Percy has gotten a lot better. There's almost a competition between them to see who is the better receiver right now."

Very diplomatic of a blossoming team leader not to pick just one head-turner. Right, Christian?

"Exactly," he said. "Exactly."

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