Almost from the minute the Vikings drafted Percy Harvin, they knew they had something special. In his first two seasons, he was a subordinate player, taking a backseat to players like Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson and Sidney Rice.
Last year, however, things changed dramatically. Favre retired, Rice signed away as a free agent and Peterson missed all or parts of six games with ankle and knee injuries. Harvin had to step up and deliver and he did – in a big way.
At the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier fielded questions about Harvin's role on the team. When thrust into the spotlight, Harvin became the focus of the offense – as a receiver, a runner and a return man. Frazier said he believed that Harvin's usage needs to be monitored, but, at the same time, weighed against the impact he can make whenever his number gets called.
"The workload was probably what we could afford with him," Frazier said. "We're always conscious with Percy of overusing him. He's such a main factor in our offense, but also on special teams – (he is) such a threat every time he touches the football. One of the things I talked with him about at the end of the season – or even a few weeks ago – is our being able to keep him on the field a bit longer, even when he's not touching the football when he's out there. I remember at the Senior Bowl a lot of (defensive) coaches came up to me – and I shared this with Percy – they were telling much how much they feared Percy Harvin. We have to find ways to keep him on the field, even when we're not using him and let him get his breath in between plays."
Keeping Harvin on the field was always a priority, but when Peterson went down, Harvin's role increased markedly.
In the six games that Peterson missed last season – three-and-a-half games with a high-ankle sprain suffered vs. Oakland the Sunday before Thanksgiving and the final game-and-a-half of the season after tearing his ACL Christmas Eve vs. Washington – Harvin caught 47 passes for 573 yards and six touchdowns. In the 10 full games that Peterson played, Harvin caught 40 passes for 394 yards and no touchdowns.
The same was true for Harvin's running. In the six games in which Peterson wasn't available – in whole or in part – Harvin ran 28 times for 143 yards and one touchdown. In the 10 games in which Peterson did play from start to finish, Harvin ran 24 times for 202 yards and one TD.
The numbers speak for themselves. In the 10 games Harvin played with Peterson on the field at all times, he averaged four catches for 39 yards, averaged two-and-a-half rushing attempts for 20 yards and scored just one offensive touchdown. In the six games Peterson wasn't on the field the entire game, he averaged eight catches a game for 83 yards, almost five carries a game for 24 yards and scored seven touchdowns.
As much as Harvin's role with the offense rose, just as big was what was missing – his recurring migraines. Harvin didn't miss any time over the 2011 season due to the headaches that have dogged him since his early teens and Frazier believes that factored into his emergence as an every-down threat last season.
"We had no episodes during the course of the season, which was a first," Frazier said. "That really contributed to him having such an outstanding all-around season. We were fortunate in that regard."
While concerns swirl around when Peterson will be able to return to the field and be the back Vikings fans have come to love and opposing defensive coordinators have come to fear, don't expect to see Harvin become a 10-carry-a-game player out of the backfield.
"I don't know if that will factor in, because Toby did such a great job for us at the end of the season," Frazier said. "We want to make sure that we're getting (Gerhart) his opportunities as well. We're going to still move Percy around – put him in the backfield, do different things with him. But what it should do is increase opportunities for Toby even with Adrian coming back. It'll take some of the reps off of Adrian with Toby playing as well as he played for us at the end of the year."
The Vikings have a lot of critical questions heading into the 2012 season. There is the underlying feeling that the team is going to be reconfigured. A lot of starters of previous years will be gone – a list that might include key players like Steve Hutchinson, E.J. Henderson, Visanthe Shiancoe, Cedric Griffin, Chris Cook and Anthony Herrera. Throw in the uncertainty surrounding Peterson's timetable to return and there are more questions than answers in Vikings Country right now. But one thing that seems certain is, whoever is on the field when the Vikings open the 2012 season, Harvin will be front and center – continuing his expanding role as one of the faces of the Vikings offense.
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.
Vikings increase focus on Harvin
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