Without a doubt, the one shining light in the Vikings’ 34-24 loss to the Lions on Sunday was the performance of wide receiver Jerome Simpson, who caught seven passes for 140 yards and proved he can perform a lot better than he did last season when he was hampered because of a back injury and caught 26 passes for 274 yards.
Simpson had a great training camp and the result of how hard he worked showed up in the opening game with the Lions.
When Simpson signed with the Vikings in April 2012, he was dealing with the repercussions of a three-game NFL suspension stemming from a drug arrest and was in the first year of three years’ probation, ordered by a Kentucky judge.
Simpson talked about what that process entails.
“It is like every week, every week I have to do drug testing,” he said. “Just being on probation and having to check in with your probation officer every month. It’s a process that you kind of take for granted … being a person that’s free. Now I’ve had some of my freedom taken away from me, it’s not a good experience. … It’s just something that I have to do for them to keep tabs on me.”
Still, Simpson has been nothing but a positive influence since joining the Vikings, and he clearly hasn’t allowed the increased restrictions on his life affect his ability to become a better player. He also added that on top of his court-ordered drug testing, there’s NFL testing for all kinds of substance abuse.
“The NFL tests a lot, too, so it’s a rigorous process, but it’s something that I have to go through and get past,” he said.
Simpson said it was tough for him when he left the Bengals and signed as a free agent with the Vikings.
“But I knew this would be a better environment for me and a new change,” he said. “Cincinnati was very good to me for four years there. They kept me on board and gave me a chance and I was blessed to have the opportunity to play there. This team works hard, and I like that about them.”
Simpson is also a booster of Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder: “He’s great. I love his personality, his attitude towards the game. He just wants to work and be the best quarterback he can. I really appreciate that out of him.”
A lot of the offseason attention on wide receivers focused on newcomers Greg Jennings and rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, but maybe a healthy Simpson can be just as big a weapon for the Vikings.
Mauer plans to catch
Twins General Manager Terry Ryan was asked about media speculation about Joe Mauer becoming a full-time first baseman now that Justin Morneau has been traded to Pittsburgh.
“I don’t know that there has been talk [by the team about] having him play first base,” Ryan said. “It might be where we get him back in the lineup and take it easy on him until he is ready to get behind the plate.”
Mauer played in 113 of the Twins’ first 123 games before being placed on the seven-day disabled list after suffering concussion-like symptoms from a foul tip off his catcher’s mask. Now Mauer has missed 20 consecutive games and it’s still uncertain when he’ll return to the lineup.
“I think Joe has stated publicly that he wants to catch,” Ryan said, “and as soon as he’s healthy and we activate him off that concussion DL, he might DH a little, might play first, and he probably will catch. We just have to get him healthy and we’ll go from there.”
Mauer has been quoted on several occasions that he wants to be a full-time catcher. What would happen if he continues to take this stand?
“I believe that would be accurate [that Mauer will continue to catch],” Ryan said.
Minnesota connections at Western Illinois
Western Illinois, the Gophers’ football opponent Saturday, is coached by former Minnesota Duluth head coach Bob Nielson. He won the NCAA Division II national championship in 2008 and 2010 with the Bulldogs before leaving for the Leathernecks last season.
He talked this week about the different level of competition they’ll be facing against the Gophers.
“We’re going to change our level of competition next week. It’s a different level of competition when we go up to Minnesota, and that’s taking nothing away from [their first two opponents] Hampton or Quincy. We have to be a better football team.”
One weapon Nielson will have is quarterback Trenton Norvell, who was named the Missouri Valley Football Conference Newcomer of the Week this week after completing 24 of 34 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns in their 34-6 victory over Quincy.
• When it came to sports, John Valek, who was killed Tuesday in a construction accident at the site of the future St. Paul Saints ballpark, was like an encyclopedia. Valek — the father of Kalli Schmidt Valek, who is like an adopted granddaughter to me — was always the man to turn to if there was a conversation about the Vikings or any other local sports team. He always had the answers. He was a class act.
• The Philadelphia 76ers were impressed with the recent play of former Gophers forward Rodney Williams and are expected to sign him to a multiyear contract soon.
• Bears coach Marc Trestman, who will face the Vikings in Chicago on Sunday, will get an honor he’s thrilled about when he is inducted into the St. Louis Park Athletic Hall of Fame on Thursday. Trestman will not be able to accept the award in person, but his parents, Jerry and Sharon, will be there on his behalf.
• Sports Illustrated ran a feature earlier this month on how Wolves forward Kevin Love and other NBA stars spent their summer working out at a gym with former Syracuse walk-on Rob McClanaghan. Some of the players Love worked out with on a daily basis were Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook. The article also noted that Love is working on two new moves: a Paul Pierce-type spin move and a Dirk Nowitzki-type baseline fadeaway.
• Former Twin Michael Cuddyer was leading the National League with a .334 batting average going into Wednesday’s games. His previous best season average was .284 in 2006 and 2011. If Cuddyer keeps up the pace, he would become the first former Twin to win a batting title with another team.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org