In what, to date, has been a wildly entertaining then exasperating then surprisingly encouraging Vikings season, now is an odd time to turn the spotlight toward a French bulldog named Yoshi. But without that friendly little pup, Jerome Simpson admits he might not have come through the past three weeks with as much peace of mind as he has.
Suspended by the NFL for three games following his guilty plea in March to a felony drug charge, the Vikings receiver has been forced into a somewhat lonely existence since the regular season began.
And Yoshi, whom Simpson picked up as a puppy this spring?
"He's been my companion, man," Simpson said. "He's too cool, so affectionate and people-friendly. I'm a single guy, by myself a lot. So Yoshi's been around to keep me company. Especially these last few weeks. I've needed that."
These past three weeks have left Simpson somewhat stir crazy. Yes, he has had access to the Vikings facilities. He has been able to work out with the strength coaches. And he has been allowed to attend all team meetings.
But Simpson hasn't been able to play football, banned from practice and confined to his couch for the past three game days. Those have been the worst.
"Screaming the whole time," Simpson said Monday. "I was just like a fan. Maybe even worse than a real fan. ... I'm into the game the whole time. And I hate the commercial breaks."
Now, those couch potato Sundays are over and Simpson has the green light to return. On Wednesday, he will partake in his first practice of the regular season. And he is eager to join the Vikings on their Week 4 trip to Detroit, where he will see his first game action since Aug. 17.
"I got to get out of this suspension mode now," Simpson said. "I was kind of on a slight vacation. Now I have to get back into football mode and get back on the grind and get back into my patterns."
The Vikings have a three-day exemption to open a roster spot for the speedy receiver, needing to waive a player by Thursday afternoon.
More importantly, the offense is eager to welcome Simpson back, believing his speed and athleticism will add a dimension to a rapidly growing attack.
In Simpson's absence, Percy Harvin has established himself as the undeniable go-to guy in the passing attack, averaging nine catches and 92 yards per game. Tight end Kyle Rudolph has experienced a growth spurt himself. And Adrian Peterson, of course, will remain a focal point of coordinator Bill Musgrave's game plans for the foreseeable future.
But Simpson? He has outside speed that should put additional stress on opposing defenses. And if you've forgotten about his athleticism, look back at the highlight of his eye-opening preseason reception against San Diego in which he took a quick slant then hurdled over Bills safety Jairus Byrd and sprinted free to produce a 33-yard gain.
"Obviously, everyone knows him for his athleticism," quarterback Christian Ponder said. "But his football IQ is outstanding, how he runs his routes and everything. He finds ways to get open."
To be clear, the Vikings aren't expecting Simpson to be the second coming of Calvin Johnson. Realistically, the offensive pecking order most often will favor Peterson, Harvin and Rudolph. But asked Monday whether fans and reporters needed to temper expectations for Simpson's arrival, Ponder didn't quell his own anticipation.
"I don't know," he said. "We've built a great connection all throughout the preseason and everything. And he's been working hard, working out and staying in shape. So I think he'll have a pretty early impact once he's out there."
Added coach Leslie Frazier: "We want to utilize his talents as much as possible. ... We want to get him integrated right away."
Simpson is the first to admit there will be rust this week. But Frazier also believes Simpson's presence in team meetings the past three weeks has been invaluable.
"Just being a part of the culture was a good thing for him and a good thing for his teammates to be around him as well," Frazier said. "He's hearing the wide receivers coach, George Stewart, talk about assignments. He's hearing Bill Musgrave install the offense and the game plan for that week. So he gets a feel for what the in-season routine is like as opposed to what he experienced in the preseason."
Now, the regular-season stage is open for Simpson. And he can't wait to help.