EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Over the course of four seasons, the Minnesota Vikings witnessed first-hand the spectacular ability of Percy Harvin, watching as he developed into one of the NFL’s most dynamic and unique offensive playmakers.
Minnesota also endured all of the agony that comes along with Harvin, dealing with the often-injured, sometimes-temperamental receiver and kickoff returner.
The Seattle Seahawks, who acquired Harvin in a trade with the Vikings this summer, are now learning all about the spectacular highs and lows he can provide. In a few short months with Seattle it’s been mostly lows for Harvin. He reported a hip injury in July that turned out to be a torn labrum, eventually leading to surgery. He was placed on the physically unable to perform list and returned to practice on Oct. 21.
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In a scenario so fitting because of the recent past, Harvin is expected to make his Seahawks debut this weekend with the Vikings traveling to Seattle for Sunday’s game.
“Oh, no, no doubt in my mind,” said Minnesota safety Jamarca Sanford, perhaps Harvin’s best friend on the Vikings. “If he had any chance to be back for a game, I knew it was going to be this.”
Sanford said he still talks with Harvin about once a week and is looking forward to matching up with his friend.
“I’m pretty sure he’s going to be a little smack talking,” Sanford said. “We’re going to get after each other, so I can’t wait.”
Harvin’s time with the Vikings, as brilliant a playmaker as he was, was never smooth. Harvin was the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year in 2009 after Minnesota drafted him No. 22 out of Florida. He had 60 catches for 790 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie and made the Pro Bowl as a returner, averaging 27.5 yards per return.
He peaked in 2011 even while the Vikings slipped to a franchise-tying 3-13 record with 87 catches for 967 yards and eight total touchdowns, while also rushing for 345 yards. Minnesota’s offense used Harvin’s unique skill set, taking advantage of mismatches by moving Harvin all around the field and particularly becoming dangerous with Harvin running bubble screens.
But there were also the issues that continually popped up. He fell to the Vikings because of reported drug problems. Migraines became a constant concern and he missed three games his first two seasons before playing all 16 in 2011. He hinted at issues with the team during offseason activities in 2012 only to lead the league in catches when he injured his ankle, coincidentally, in a game at Seattle and was seen yelling at head coach Leslie Frazier.
He never played another game for the Vikings, who went on a playoff run without him and then traded him to Seattle in the offseason for a 2013 first-round pick, which turned into cornerback Xavier Rhodes, a 2013 seventh-round pick which was used on offensive lineman Travis Bond and a 2014 third-round pick.
Frazier said he parted with Harvin on “good terms” and expects to see the receiver at his emotional best on Sunday.
“He’s always fired up to play,” Frazier said. “He’s very, very competitive guy. We saw that every Sunday here. So we wouldn’t expect anything less.”
Sanford he had a feel for the frustration Harvin has felt in his final days in Minnesota and being unable to play for Seattle through the first half of the season. Sanford said Harvin is happy to be playing again.
“I mean, he didn’t get to where he’s at today by it just being easy,” Sanford said. “He’s traveled a tough road, so the little things he did up to now. It can be frustrating at times, but we play a violent game and every play you’re one play away from never playing football again. So I’m pretty sure he’s frustrated, but he’s a strong guy and I’m pretty sure he’s worked and worked his tail off. We know how hard Percy works. So he busted his tail to get back for this game, so he’s back in action this week.”
Seattle rewarded Harvin with the contract extension he sought shortly after the trade, agreeing to a six-year, $67 million extension. He was activated off the PUP list on Monday and was listed as limited during Wednesday’s practice.
The Seahawks haven’t seen him break off a big kickoff return or make defenders miss in a game yet, but they have a feeling for his emotional, competitive nature that made him one of the league’s toughest players per pound at just 5-foot-11 and 184 pounds.
“He’s extraordinarily competitive,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s a fierce competitor. We couldn’t ask an attribute that we champion more here in our program, and that was one of the things I was really excited about when we started the process because I thought that’s what he was like, and after being around him more directly as we have, he fits right in here. He’s got tremendous expectations and fits right in with the way we think.”
But Carroll had to make sure he fit in with Seattle too.
“We talked about everything,” Carroll said of the process of finding out about Harvin before the trade. “We investigated the matter just to try to get his take on what’s happened. We inquired wherever we could with the players that knew what was going on, former coaches. We did all of our homework in great depth. I knew him as a high school kid going into college, so I had a little bit of background with him through the recruiting process, so I felt like I kind of understood where he was coming from and as he was talking to us and tell us what happened. We made our decision based on all that.”
No one, outside of Carroll and the Seahawks quite know what to expect from Harvin in his first game.
Carroll wouldn’t say Harvin definitively if Harvin will play Sunday, but said he wouldn’t hold him back at all if he’s ready to play. Carroll said Harvin is another piece to an offense that has punishing running back Marshawn Lynch and quarterback Russell Wilson, who spreads the ball around to several receivers.
There was familiarity with Harvin, with Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell having worked with him in Minnesota and Harvin has been a participant in offensive meetings and on the field for about two weeks. He did suffer a minor setback with his hip, delaying his return until now.
“I don’t know everything about the injury he’s coming back from, but I know when he’s on the field he plays hard and he gives you everything he has every snap,” Frazier said. “So I don’t think he’ll change in that way. I’m not sure how far along he is in his rehab other than the fact that they did activate him on the 53. But when he’s on the field he’s always played hard I wouldn’t expect anything different.
Hard-charging, emotional and big-time playmaking ability; after some lows the past few months, Seattle might finally see the highs Minnesota became used to. And Harvin will be the Vikings’ problem all over again.