Back in training, Harvin smiled as broadly as a poker-bluffing bandit as he thought of stealing yards from one opponent after the next when he got a good look at offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's plan for him. There were the typical receiver assignments on the outside and at Harvin's more effective position in the slot. But more than ever, Musgrave envisioned using Harvin's unique skills in the many ways they can exploited.
So far, Harvin is the Vikings' leader in catches with 31 and tied for the team lead in targets (43), despite not being used as extensively as he could. The catches might be limited because of his offensive versatility – he has already set a franchise record for rushes (20) by a receiver and is the second-leading rusher on the team after, of course, Adrian Peterson.
Musgrave admitted this week that, because of the many different ways the Vikings use Harvin, receivers Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu are actually be on the field more often. In one respect, Harvin understands the philosophy, but that understanding has to be balanced with his inner competitor.
"Me playing special teams, running back, different positions, they feel it's best to be able to rest up or whatever it is. I'm just following the plan," Harvin said.
"Of course, me just being a player, I want to be out there every play. I trust them and do know that it probably wouldn't be in my best interest to do all those snaps. Of course, we've got to manage those snaps I do."
Harvin is more than just "a player." He is one of the Vikings' most valued commodities. Despite having only nine chances to return kickoffs, he is the only Vikings returner to have a touchdown this season. The other two, Lorenzo Booker and Marcus Sherels, also have kick returns of more than 60 yards, but Harvin's elite speed allowed him to completely capitalize the one time he really broke free this year. Despite the success of the other returners, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer basically gave an "are you crazy?" response when asked if he ever considers just taking Harvin off return duties completely given the success of Booker and Sherels there, as well. They are good options, maybe even above-average. But Harvin is elite.
It creates a dilemma for the Vikings. Harvin spent the first half of the season dealing with a painful rib injury that likely would have sent lesser competitors to the sideline for a few weeks of R&R. For Harvin, the R&R meant more rushing and receiving.
So how much should the Vikings use him in the return game, and rushing the ball, and running routes as a receiver – especially given his situation with the ribs?
"That's the question we all talk about and ask ourselves when we are designing things for Percy, who is a dynamic player, as we all know. A guy we count on so much," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "But his style of play, you have to watch what you do with him because you want to keep him over the course of 16 weeks. We're always conscious of his reps and how we're using him. It's a factor. Those kickoffs are violent situations a lot of times. You're measuring that. You're measuring when you put him in the backfield, when you ask him to go block on linebackers, when you ask him to run a reverse, to catch a deep ball. There are a lot of factors. To get the most out of him, we're conscious of the number of reps he gets in a ballgame."
To a degree, they have to be. But there also has to be the ultimate temptation to use him on every snap. He does it all and he does it all exceptionally. He is averaging 9.3 yards on his 20 rushes – some of them on end-arounds, others when he cuts it inside the tackles, and others receiving a straight handoff.
No other player offers quite the excitement and intrigue about how they will be used as Harvin does. Ironic, isn't it, then, that Brad Childress, the coach ridiculed for his stale offense, is the one most responsible for drafting Harvin? Now that Childress' offense has been retired to a Florida resting home, Harvin's true talents are being used often – and yet he might just be scratching the surface in setting up other plays?
He knows things are just starting to develop.
"I love playing (a versatile role). A lot of our big hits are going to come when the defense may not know where to line up at, and the next thing you know we might hand the ball off to A.P. We're trying to use it where, even though I'm in the game at a different position, it doesn't mean necessarily that I'm going to get the ball. We're trying to get into that flow, where every time I'm in the backfield, hey, it's not (going to) 12 in the backfield. We're going to try to get to some different things and see if that can help us out."
The scary thing is that Harvin might just be getting started in the new offense. If Christian Ponder can continue to develop as another threat and if Harvin's ribs can hold up in the second half of the season, there's no telling how effective he might be.
"Just hearing him talking and walking (last week), he looks, man, as fresh as he did when we came to training camp," Frazier said. "He looks great, and that's good for our football team."
Actually, it's better than good. It should be downright exciting and intriguing if the Ponder-Peterson-Harvin triumvirate can start its rule.
following a bye week. The Vikings have played the Packers following the bye three other times, with a 2-1 record.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.