From the time the lockout ended, two players that Leslie Frazier has consistently praised – both publicly and privately – have been Jared Allen and Percy Harvin.
Allen leads the NFL in sacks and Frazier raved about him in training camp, saying that the three-time Pro Bowler has re-focused himself to be as dominant as he can be. With Harvin, it was a different story.
Harvin has been an explosive difference-maker for the Vikings in his two-plus seasons, but, on a veteran-laden team, he wasn't expected to be a leader. The locker room was deep with them last year, from Brett Favre to the Pat Williams/Kevin Williams combination to Steve Hutchinson to Antoine Winfield to Allen.
But, without being asked, Frazier said he has seen Harvin take on a leadership role with the receiver corps, stepping up and trying to assist the other receivers. For his part, Harvin said that, although he is flattered by the praise of his coach, he is trying to be a leader because he is following in the footsteps of veteran players whose skill, mentorship and commitment to the game were virtues he wanted to emulate.
"I look at leadership as being the guys that you follow going into battle," Harvin said. "You want those guys that will stand out front, take the criticism and do it all. Pat [Williams] and Kevin [Williams] were those guys, were leaders, here for years. As far as my leadership goes, I just try to go out and do it the right way – the way I've seen other guys do it."
Harvin said he is willing to do whatever he can to help the team, whether it's catching passes, making downfield blocks to help spring Adrian Peterson, running the ball himself or returning kicks. The latter has been something that Harvin has missed out on … and missed.
In his first two seasons, Harvin returned 82 kickoffs, including three for touchdowns. On the opening kickoff of the 2011 season, Harvin brought it back 103 yards for a touchdown. Since then, he has returned just four more kicks. As the Vikings prepare for return man extraordinaire Devin Hester, Harvin said he's hoping to be able to go head to head with Hester, but the decision as to whether his value to the offense could be diminished by returning kicks isn't up to him.
Harvin said he has always enjoyed returning kicks and believes he can make the big play that can turn a game around, but the combination of being a part-time returner and the rules change that moved kickoffs up five yards – resulting in a record number of touchbacks – have reduced on the roles on the team he took the most pride in.
As far as he is concerned, he would like to match Hester return for return, but the change in his role in the offense has made his lack of return opportunities something he is hoping will change as the season goes on.
"It's definitely frustrating, because I'm not out there that often, and with the new rules you don't get to run nearly as many kicks back," Harvin said. "As far as Devin goes, he's one of the best. I pride myself to be one of the best, so it will definitely be good if I get to go back there [to return kickoffs] and try to out-do the special teams of the Bears. They pride themselves on being one of the best special teams in the league, so it would be good to try to show them up."
Harvin said that, when it comes to leadership, Adrian Peterson has emerged as one of the elite players in the NFL. Like Harvin does, he said Peterson leads by example – putting in untold hours behind the scenes to prepare his body for the beating it will take during the season and come back strong the following week when the next games begins.
"He's definitely a leader," Harvin said. "He's one of the guys you can see how to do it right – how to keep your body in tip-top shape to perform at your peak when your number gets called. When you get the ball 25 times [a game] week in and week out, there are going to be some bumps and bruises. He works hard and takes care of his body. That's something I think everybody should look at."
Harvin said his transformation from one of the young pups to one of the old dogs in the Vikings locker room has been the result of having Hall of Fame players to learn from – on and off the field. He said that much of the learning process in the NFL is from watching, not being the loudest voice in the locker room.
"I have the great fortune to be around a lot of great veterans – Brett, McNabb, Hutchinson, all those guys," Harvin said. "With Brett, we had a lot of one-on-one conversations. I've been a follower. I just look at guys. I don't necessarily have to ask you what you're doing, I kind of just mingle, see what you're doing and put it into my game."
Is Harvin a leader? That depends on who you ask. Ask just about anybody else, and the answer will be a chorus of "yes." Ask Harvin and he isn't so sure, but, if nothing else, he's getting more comfortable with the designation.
"I don't know how other people explain leadership," Harvin said. "It isn't something that automatically comes with the job. Either you are or you aren't. I don't know if I am, but I try to lead by example. I'm working as hard as I can to help our team win. If that makes me a leader, I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing and hope the others follow my lead."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Harvin a leader? He explains
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