Jerome Simpson does the same routine before most plays. He breaks the huddle, runs to his receiver spot and leaps high into the air, as if he’s about to execute a kung-fu kick.
His maneuver is one part ballet, one part goofy. Apparently, he’s trying to prove a point, though, beyond showing off his impressive jumping prowess.
“Just show the defenders that I’m ready and I’m going to be here all day,” he explained. “That’s just one of my patents. I’m showing that I’m going to have energy the whole game so you better come ready.”
But what about last season when he shelved his “patent” for the most part?
“I was hurting,” he said. “I couldn’t do it last year.”
Simpson’s pre-snap aerobics indicate that he is healthy and happy again after miserable debut with the Vikings in 2012. His production so far this season provides the truest measure: He leads the Vikings in catches (19) and receiving yards (342) and looks like a legitimate deep threat.
“It’s good because I’ve got the confidence of the coaches and my teammates and the quarterbacks,” Simpson said. “They know they can come to me and I’m going to make a play for them.”
Simpson’s fast start is the kind of impact the Vikings envisioned when they signed him to a one-year contract before last season. But Simpson missed the first three games while serving an NFL suspension over his drug case and then woke up the day of a game in earlier October and felt numbness in his foot. He was diagnosed with a back injury that bothered him the rest of the season.
Simpson finished with only 26 catches for 274 yards and no TDs. But rather than rule the experiment a failure, GM Rick Spielman decided to re-sign Simpson to another one-year deal as he rebuilt his receiving corps.
In his exit interview with the coaching staff after the season, Simpson vowed to return healthy and prove the team right, if given another opportunity.
“This is what I envisioned,” he said. “I know what I can do.”
Simpson has two 100-yard performances in the first four games. Though he still has not caught a touchdown pass in a Vikings uniform, Simpson has provided a vertical presence that was painfully absent last season.
Simpson caught only three passes of 20-plus yards last season. He already has five this season.
“It’s 100 percent because I’m healthy,” Simpson said. “I feel great this year. I’m in great spirits, and my body is where it needs to be. And I have no worries.”
Wide receivers coach George Stewart credits management for giving Simpson a second chance to prove himself.
“When Rick Spielman signed this young man two years ago, he was one of the most athletic receivers in the league,” Stewart said. “He’s completely healthy [now] and playing at a high level. Jerome Simpson has really worked hard to get himself to this level.”
Now, he must prove he can stay at this level. Simpson had a 140-yard performance against Detroit with Christian Ponder as his quarterback, and he caught seven passes for 124 yards against Pittsburgh with Matt Cassel running the show.
Eventually, he’ll get the opportunity to play with newcomer Josh Freeman, who is known for his strong arm.
“Of course it excites me,” Simpson said. “I want to catch that ball deep and score and point first downs and all that.”
Simpson refuses to harness his histrionics, whether it’s signaling first downs after catches or leaping before snaps. He described himself as the “Energizer Bunny.”
“Just show that defender that I’m not going to get tired,” he said. “I don’t think you’re ever going to be in better shape than I am so I’m going to try and outwork you.”
Stewart said he doesn’t have a problem with Simpson’s odd pre-snap routine.
“That’s his trademark,” he said. “That’s him. The only thing I told him is when you come down, come down on both feet. No sprained ankles.”