EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings have discussed the best way to get the most out of the unique talents of receiver Percy Harvin. Through two games this season, it appears they’ve figured things out.
Harvin has been Minnesota’s top offensive playmaker. And the 5-foot-11, 184-pound Harvin is as tough as ever, but the coaches are still trying to ensure they keep him healthy.
“He is a primary weapon for us on offense, that’s obvious to opposing defenses,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “But we don’t want to overextend him. But at the same time, we have to utilize his talents and we’re trying to be judicious in doing that, but he’s such a gifted guy. It’s hard to have him sitting over there for any length of time. Just have to be smart as we go along.”
Near the end of Sunday’s game, his busiest effort in his four seasons with a career-high 12 catches, Harvin dealt with cramps. He still played through and finished with 104 yards receiving, and added 13 yards rushing on two carries and 78 yards on two kickoff returns.
Harvin has waited his time to be a focal point of the Vikings’ offense. He doesn’t want to be on the sideline while the offense is on the field, even while dealing with the cramp in his leg.
“Fourth quarter to win the game, who wants to be on the sideline cramping,” Harvin said. “They kind of rubbed it out when I was still trying to go back in. They wanted me to drink fluids and stuff. It’s just one of those times where it’s all or nothing. I wanted to be in there, so I was a bit disappointed.”
Harvin’s health has been a hot-button issue for years. He appears to be over the migraines that plagued him early in his career, but coaches still worry about the all-out nature of his aggressive play. Harvin is small by NFL standards, but he doesn’t shy from contact and plays hard.
“The way he plays you always have to be conscious of his numbers, the number of hits he takes,” Frazier said. “He is not a big guy in stature but he plays big, so we are always aware of the number of hits he is taking, number of touches he’s getting in the ball game, whether its kickoff, or wide receiver, running back.”
It’s getting harder to limit Harvin’s touches. Entering Monday Night Football with the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons, Harvin was leading the NFL in all-purpose yards with 387 combined yards rushing, receiving and returning. The 387 total yards is a new team record after two weeks, breaking the mark set by Troy Williamson in 2006.
Harvin is tied for second in the league in receptions with Darren Sproles, just two behind St. Louis Rams receiver Danny Amendola, who has 20. Harvin is ninth in receiving yards and is third in the league with a 33.2-yard kickoff return average. Overall, he’s 10t in the NFL in yards-per-touch with a 12.9-yard average.
“He’s unbelievable, man,” quarterback Christian Ponder said. “He’s so tough mentally and physically and he’s so gifted. And he works his butt off and he’s a leader on this team as well. He’s everything, doing more than what we ask him to do. He shows up to work every day and works hard in practice and it’s showing up for him. He’s one of the best players on this team.”
Harvin isn’t worried about being over-used, nor does he worry about taking a beating. He’s said repeatedly he can’t change the way he plays. He’s just happy he’s playing more than he ever has in his career.
“That’s going to be coach’s decision,” Harvin said. “I’m going to go until I can’t go no more. I’ll look to them to manage that but I’m going.”
Harvin said he was disappointed not being on the field for the kickoff return late in the first half Sunday, when backup Marcus Sherels made a curious decision to return the kick from eight yards deep in the end zone and only made it to the 15-yard line.
Frazier said he wanted to save Harvin for the upcoming offensive series, which ended up as a three-and-out before punting. His previous kickoff return Harvin had taken for 50 yards.
“I’m going to try to be back there as much as I can, especially seeing those returns,” Harvin said. “We’ve got a lot of good things going, the first couple ones we had. It was a block away or a break tackle away from scoring. I just want to be back there because I know it’s a good opportunity to help this team go forward.”
But the coaches are sticking with their plans to preserve Harvin, even as that decision is increasingly more difficult.
“He’s off to a great start for us, no question about it,” Frazier said. “It’s working just like we wanted it to when we sat down this offseason and talked about being able to utilize his strengths. It is tough to take him off the field, but we have to be smart. It’s a long season.”