No doubt Percy Harvin has had his run-ins with members of the Minnesota Vikings front-office staff and former coaching staff. But inside the locker room, there is much respect for the former teammate they will be facing this Sunday, now that Harvin is with the New York Jets.
“Percy was a great teammate. Absolutely, yeah,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “Never had an issue in the locker room with any of us and a guy that was going to give you everything, no matter what the situation was – whether it be a practice at training camp or a game or a playoff game. He’s going to give it to you. As a teammate, that’s all you can really ask for.”
But with numerous reports and ample other evidence that Harvin could be surly and difficult at times with the staff, that might seem like a curious statement from Greenway, who has long been a supporter of what Harvin brings to the football field, going so far as to suggest Harvin should be an MVP candidate when he was with the Vikings.
But Greenway admitted “there’s a lot of situations that we don’t see as players, so it’s hard to speak on that when you’re not there or see it.”
What everyone sees is what Harvin produces on the field. With the Vikings, he was a dynamic presence.
In the only 16-game season of his six-year career, 2011, Harvin had 967 yards receiving with six touchdowns and 345 yards rushing with two touchdowns. He averaged 11.1 yards on catches and 6.6 yards on runs.
Even the former teammate who got into a training camp scuffle with Harvin, safety Harrison Smith, called Harvin one of his favorite players.
“That was nothing,” Smith said of the training camp dustup. “Percy, he’s one of my favorite players to watch. The way he plays, tough. He’s a tough guy, runs hard so he was always – I’ve got a ton of respect for him. I think that was just competitors.”
Smith, of course, is quite the competitor himself. In his rookie season of 2012, Harvin’s last with the team, Smith incurred numerous fines for illegal hits to receivers, something he has avoided this year. But that competitiveness is one of the reasons Smith has so much respect for Harvin.
“I think that’s why I like him so much as a player is that’s how he plays the game,” Smith said. “You don’t see a whole lot of receivers playing that rough and running in on kickoffs full speed. It’s just a lot of respect for him.”
The Jets are using him in a similar way. In five games now since being traded (again) to the Jets, Harvin has 19 catches for 182 yards and 17 rushes for 96 yards.
“He’s obviously fast and quick and he’s got all the moves, but that toughness, he can break tackles, too. And he plays hard, so he’s got the ability to do a lot of things in space,” Smith said.
Ryan said the Jets are just trying to take advantage of Harvin’s athleticism and move him around. But the Vikings were always careful not to overexpose Harvin to too many vicious hits. His relentless style of play invites defenders to punish him with hard hits, but Ryan said that isn’t much of a concern with the Jets because they haven’t had him for an entire season.
“Obviously he doesn’t have the perfect running back build. You probably don’t want him taking that kind of hits, but it’s such a dynamic playmaker that you want to get the ball in his hands, without question,” Ryan said. “I think through a 16-game season, that might come into the conversation, but for us it’s just getting up to speed on our offense and letting go and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Harvin has yet to score a touchdown for the Jets, but everyone involved expects him to bring everything he has in during his second time playing against his former team – he had only one catch for 17 yards against the Vikings last year as a member of the Seattle Seahawks, but it was an impressive grab.
“We know he’ll be fired up and ready to play us,” Greenway said. “Not many guys now, the roster turns over so fast that a lot of guys didn’t play with him. Obviously I did for a number of years and know the quality of player he is, so he’ll give us his best effort.
“You’ve got to know that when you go to tackle Percy you better bring your big-boy shoes. He’s as good as anybody getting off tackles and making people miss. You know the intensity he plays with, so we know him and who he is. I’m sure we’ve played him now once already in Seattle so I’m sure that has wore off a little bit. Maybe not for him, we’ll see. He can be an angry dude sometimes. Love him, though.”
Despite the off-field baggage that Harvin brings with him, Ryan said he has been “absolutely terrific” to deal with.
The Jets are using him on screens, reverses, in the slot and out wide. In other words, the method of using Harvin hasn’t varied much since the Vikings last had him on their roster in 2012.
“We’ll know where he is, it’s the other guys making sure we get the right matchups and everything else when they’ve got – they might have three backs and two receivers in there and he might be lined up as the back,” said Vikings defensive-minded head coach Mike Zimmer. “They might have three tight ends and two receivers and he’s the back. He could line up anywhere.”