Toby Gerhart is preparing for a bigger role Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons with the likelihood that Adrian Peterson won't be able to play because of a high ankle sprain, but the Vikings have another backfield option in Percy Harvin.
Last week, Harvin had not only a season-high, but also a career-high, five carries. It wasn't just because Peterson suffered his injury in the first quarter, either.
"It was part of the game plan. Him going out had nothing to do with more carries for me," Harvin said.
That's likely true, since only one of Harvin's rushes came in the second half of the game, but his five carries for 21 yards didn't include a 35-yard end-around that went for a touchdown and was called back because of a holding call on Michael Jenkins.
"That's just been the way our season's been unfolding this year. The big plays, when we have got them, we killed ourselves with penalties and just the presnap penalties – the offsides and stuff like that – we're killing ourselves. It kills our momentum when we do get drives going."
Harvin already has the franchise single-season record for rushes by a wide receiver with the 28 he has through 10 games, but that shouldn't be a complete surprise. He is also the career leader in that category and is currently in second place on the team with 28 rushes for 224 yards.
Harvin has maintained throughout the season that he likes the creative ways in which he is being used by offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.
"I know Bill enjoys working with him and designing ways to get him the football every week," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "Probably the one thing that becomes a little bit challenging is not overusing him. You can't hand it off 20 times to him in the backfield and try to get all the things you want to get out of him in the passing game, along with what we ask for in special teams, including blocking. That's probably the biggest challenge, not wearing him down to the point where you can't use him 16 weeks in the regular season."
Teams are respecting Harvin as both a receiver and runner these days. Green Bay used Charles Woodson as a spy on him – QB Christian Ponder said it was because the Packers realized the "caliber of player (Harvin) is" – and Oakland bit hard on fake handoffs to him.
"They bit a lot," Harvin said after watching the film on Monday.
Harvin also continued to prove his prowess in the receiving game Sunday, making it his fourth game this year with at least six catches. He finished the Oakland game with six receptions for 73 yards and had his first receiving touchdown of the season. He became the first player in Vikings history to have more than one season with a touchdown receiving, rushing and in the return game.
"He's unbelievable. I think his ability to make plays happen after the catch or after the ball is in his hands (is impressive)," said Ponder, who faced Harvin in college when the receiver was at Florida and Ponder was at Florida State. "He makes guys miss, he runs over guys. With how fast he is, he's still very powerful. He's just a heck of an athlete – I hate to say it (with him) being a Gator, but he's good."
Frazier said the Vikings will continue to use Harvin running ball, but he wasn't willing to say they would use him more with Peterson possibly sitting out. But that has more to do with the Vikings not wanting to wear out Harvin rather than any slight against the backfield skills he possesses.
The Vikings know Harvin can handle just about any role that involves him getting the ball in his hands.
"I think a lot of it has to do with his determination and his heart. It's hard to measure the determination that he has and the willingness that he has to be successful," Frazier said. "I don't think being at the (NFL Scouting) Combine you could have foretold that he would be able to run through linebackers' tackles in the National Football League, run over defensive backs out of the backfield in the National Football League like he does. Just a very determined, physically strong football player who has tremendous athletic skills."
Once again, talk of Harvin's versatility brought out an anecdote about his toughness and selflessness as a blocker. Harvin has said numerous times he relishes that part of the game, and coaches see it on tape all the time.
"If you put him in the slot, he's the toughest guy in the league to cover in the slot. And then you put in the backfield and, man, he's a pretty good back, too, coming out of the backfield when you hand it off to him. He's unique in so many ways," Frazier said.
"As physical of a blocker as he is, you can't discount that, as well. Tremendous blocker. There was one play when they were double-teaming him when he was in the slot and they held him and they called a penalty. … He gets off of the hold by the two defensive backs and he's 20 yards downfield making a block. How many great players do you see doing that? Nobody's coaching him to do it, he's just instinctively in the game saying I've got to go help my teammate. He's a special, special guy in that way."
Harvin made a return appearance on the injury report again this week with his sore ribs, but with a good chance that Peterson isn't able to play – at least at full strength – the more Harvin can do, the better for the Vikings offense.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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