Percy Harvin sat down at a table outside the Minnesota Vikings' locker room after a long day of practice, the sun shining on his head, a big smile on his face.
Harvin leads the NFL in receptions, and that's just the beginning of his influence. He has become an indispensable piece of the team and presence in the locker room, helping the Vikings get off to a surprising 2-1 start.
And make no mistake — these Vikings are becoming his team as much as anyone else's.
"Percy's the best player in the NFL right now," Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said. "I'd like to see anybody challenge that with the way he's carrying the football and the way he's really driving our team along."
To see Harvin put up the kind of numbers he has through the first three games — 27 catches for 277 yards — is nothing new. His combination of speed, power and unyielding tenaciousness has made him a problem for defenses, and kick coverage units, ever since he broke into the league in 2009.
To hear him speak glowingly about the Vikings just three months after requesting a trade, and to watch his teammates follow his lead the way they have this season, is something altogether different.
Harvin requested a trade in June after growing unhappy with the Vikings. Now, he couldn't be happier with his role in the offense and is a member of the leadership council that acts as a liaison between the team and coaching staff.
His stature within the team is growing, and Harvin welcomes the responsibility.
"It just gives me all the confidence in the world and it makes me love this place even more to know your teammates and everybody have each other's backs," Harvin said.
Greenway compared Harvin's effect on the team as similar to what safety Bob Sanders did for the Iowa Hawkeyes during their run to the Orange Bowl in 2003.
"He just taught us all to play at another level. He just did," Greenway said of Sanders. "He played at a different speed and he just teaches everybody to play at a different speed. If you're not willing to play at that speed then you're not going to make it. I think Percy's that same guy. He's at that next level. If we can all just tag along and come with him, we're going to do a lot of great things."
Harvin credited offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave with putting him in the right positions to produce. That's a heartening stance after Harvin's role in the red zone last year was minimized and may have played a role in his desire to play elsewhere.
But Harvin and the rest of the Vikings' offense appears much more comfortable in the second year of Musgrave's system. Quarterback Christian Ponder has taken more control in his first full season as a starter, tight end Kyle Rudolph is emerging as a legitimate threat over the middle and Adrian Peterson is getting closer to being fully healthy after knee surgery.
"Last year I think a lot of us didn't know the offense like we wanted to know it," Harvin said. "We knew it, but not up and down. We were just out there playing just trying to make plays.
"This year guys took it upon themselves to transform their bodies, to know the playbook up and down. So when we come on the field, it's easy for Musgrave to say, ‘Hey Percy, go play this position. Hey Rudolph, go play this position.' Because we all kind of know each other's positions."
Receivers coach George Stewart has been in Minnesota for all four of Harvin's seasons. He's seen Harvin struggle to stay on the field because of migraine headaches and endure the ups and downs of finding his way in the league.
"Early in his career it was up, down, up, down," Stewart said. "He had migraines, couldn't practice. Nothing jointed. Everything was disjointed. Now those migraines are behind him.
"When he first came into the league, he was a running back. He wasn't a wide receiver. We played him in the slot, but now he's doing everything. He's catching balls on the outside. He's a great slot player. But the consistency of being a professional is the biggest thing."
Ponder has an easier answer for Harvin's temperament.
"I'd be happy if I was getting the ball as much as he is," Ponder quipped. "He's doing well. He's a great teammate. Everyone loves him and loves being around him. He's stepping up huge right now this season. I know he's happy to be a Minnesota Viking and he's showing that right now."
Coach Leslie Frazier said "I'd dread to think of where we'd be without him."
Harvin has one more year left on his contract after this one, and the Vikings have a history of extending core players before their last season arrives. That's not on Harvin's mind at the moment, but an extension certainly looks a lot more realistic today than it did earlier this summer.
"I think he understands how he goes, our football team goes," Stewart said. "He is one of the faces of the Minnesota Vikings. He has to be that positive influence on our football team and he's doing an outstanding job doing it."
Harvin happy, productive with extensive role
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