Harvin developing as player and leader
As the Minnesota Vikings season slipped away to a franchise record-tying 3-13 season, there was never any doubting the desire of third-year receiver Percy Harvin.
When franchise running back Adrian Peterson was lost to an injury, Harvin became the go-to offensive player, showcasing his diverse talent set. What went unnoticed by most fans was Harvin's growth as a team leader.
Harvin -- 5-foot-11 and 184 pounds -- fought through a rib injury and didn't miss a game for the first time in his career. He finished his best season statistically and started his preparations for 2012 by trying to rally teammates to attend the organized team activities during the offseason.
Ever the competitor, Harvin doesn't want to go through another season of losing and pushed for his teammates to join him in offseason workouts.
"It's just after watching this season, it's what we need," Harvin said on the last day the team was together at Winter Park. "I think after my first year after when I got here, I think everybody with the exception of Brett (Favre), everybody was here. We had a good time at OTAs, playing basketball, it was just bonding even when you don't set aside and say, 'Hey, we're going to bond.' I think we missed that. With this extra month with the CBA, there's no reason why people shouldn't want to get back to what they want to do."
Harvin, the No. 22 overall pick in the 2009 draft, set career highs with 87 catches and 967 yards receiving and tied a career-high with six receiving touchdowns. He added career highs with 52 rushes for 345 yards and two rushing touchdowns. As a part-time kickoff returner, he averaged 32.5 yards per return and had two returns of more than 100 yards, including a touchdown on the opening kickoff of the season.
In the locker room, he became one of the vocal leaders for an offense suddenly missing many veteran voices such as quarterback Brett Favre and receiver Sidney Rice. Harvin was even honored with the Korey Stringer Good Guy Award by the local media for his cooperation and accountability.
"Last year, it was kind of Brett's team, and we had different things going on," Harvin said when presented with the award in December. "This year, I kind of wanted to settle in and teach a lot of things I was taught by those guys, Sidney and a lot of guys that departed here, and one of the things they said is be a man. When you stand up, people can appreciate that more -- so win or lose, I try to always be there to let people know what was going on."
Harvin's development was especially appreciated by first-year head coach Leslie Frazier, who credited Harvin as "really maturing as a player, really coming along and really becoming a leader in so many ways."
In his third year out of the University of Florida, Harvin stepped forward after Peterson was slowed, then sidelined, by injuries. In the season's final eight games, Harvin had 56 catches and seven of his eight offensive scores. He twice had 10 catches in a game, establishing a new career high. He had a career-high 156 yards receiving against Denver, including two touchdown catches of at least 48 yards.
Once burdened by migraines that caused him to miss three games during his pro career and numerous practices, Harvin played a full schedule for the first time though he didn't stay out of harm's way. Already dealing with rib pain, Harvin caught a pivotal third-down pass in a win at Carolina on the final scoring drive and went to the sideline and was doubled over in pain while talking to a trainer before returning.
Playing a reckless style that contradicts his smaller stature, Harvin has earned respect from teammates.
"Percy, he's a hell of a player," rookie quarterback Christian Ponder said. "The one thing that stands out in my mind is his toughness. He really loves this game, really cares for this game. He's a guy you always want to play with. We're going to have a lot of good years together."
Working with Ponder is one reason Harvin hopes to see as many of his teammates as possible during the offseason workouts. He knows the Vikings' offense was hurt by the lockout and lack of OTAs last season, especially with Ponder, a rookie, starting the final 10 games.
He said he will take some time to relax and get over a "few bumps and bruises." When OTAs begin, Harvin will be ready and knows his fellow receivers will be, too.
"All the receivers will be here," Harvin said about OTAs. "I can't speak for the rest of the team. That was one of the coach's strong points in the exit meetings; with this longer break that CBA gave us a whole other month, there should be no excuse why nobody should be there, except for emergencies and stuff like that. But I do anticipate our whole team being there."
Harvin sure sounds like a leader.