Vikings fans are still waiting to get their first real glimpse of Percy Harvin. His first full-pad action this weekend at the team’s minicamp has the excitement level growing, since it has been made apparent that the Vikings are going to draw up plays specifically to get Harvin into space where he can make plays.
It’s one thing to see Harvin on film make plays that almost defy logic or description, but it’s another to face him on a daily basis. Nobody had to deal with Harvin as much as University of Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong. While offensive coaches can brag up his talent, the coaches who Harvin has so routinely made look bad should have their opinions magnified even more. The Gators had one of the top defenses in the country the last couple of seasons and Harvin was a constant source of practice-field frustration.
Strong had to find ways for his defense to contain Harvin every day in practice and, just as defensive coordinators are often the best judges of talent on the opposite side of the ball – the harder they are to contain, the more dangerous they are – Strong isn’t shy about his praise of Harvin. As he sees it, the Vikings got themselves a steal at pick No. 21 because Harvin can change a game every time he touches the ball.
“What’s really tough (about defending him) is that he’s such an explosive player,” Strong said after the Vikings drafted him. “He’s one of those guys that when he puts his foot in the ground, he can run by a lot of people. He’s hard to defend because when you get into those different sorts of positions, you try to match up. He’s a matchup problem and the things he does when he has the ball in his hands – he can take it the distance really quick.”
Harvin was a showcase player in Florida, but he won’t be the only show in town with the Vikings. Far from it. Harvin will likely start the season as the third or fourth receiver, a potential third-down player motioning into and out of the backfield and even a Wildcat formation quarterback when the Vikings try to get tricky. Clearly, Adrian Peterson is going to be the focal point of the offense, but the Vikings have another wide receiver game-breaker in Bernard Berrian, a solid red zone receiver in Sidney Rice, an excellent third-down possession receiver in Bobby Wade and an emerging talent in tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, who came on strong in the 2008 season.
Harvin won’t be asked to be the go-to guy, which could make him even more dangerous. He likely isn’t going to draw an opponent’s top cornerback in single coverage to start and will be able to create matchup problems against nickel corners and safeties. Strong believes that adding a weapon like Harvin to play alongside Peterson, viewed by many as the best offensive talent in the game today, could create some nightmares for defensive coordinators around the NFL.
“That would be really tough,” Strong said of defending both Peterson and Harvin. “Any time you look at an offense, you think about who’s the quarterback, who’s the running back and who’s the receiver. All three of those guys are good enough to put pressure on a defense. That’s what scares you and, with Adrian Peterson being there, (Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson) being there at quarterback and now with Percy there, I think you’ve got three guys that can be explosive and guys that can make some big plays for you.”
While Harvin has yet to take his first NFL snap, the buzz around him and his explosiveness rivals the hype that accompanied Peterson to the NFL. If he can come anywhere close to living up to the expectations the way A.D. has done in his first two seasons, the Vikings might have a shot to become the new Greatest Show on Turf.
Frazier found E.J. Henderson’s presence on the field this weekend to be uplifting. Henderson dislocated multiple toes in the fourth game of the season and missed the rest of the year.
“Just seeing him back for the two practices we’ve had does my heart some good. Just seeing E.J. Henderson back in uniform and running around (is good). He looks good though, but we’re a long ways away from putting pads on and having the contact and going through the things we have to do to get ready for a game. But right now he looks great,” Frazier said.
The return of Kenechi Udeze has been called an “inspiration,” but he still has some progress to make in his comeback from leukemia.
“We haven’t had that many practices with him, but the fact that he’s moving around and he’s out here speaks volumes to who he is as a person and also what has happened medically. It will be a day-to-day process for him,” Frazier said. “There are so many things that have to come back, both physically and mentally and the emotional part of this game. Over time he’ll get to where he needs to be, but at what pace, who knows. … You can simulate certain things in practice, but game speed is so different, so there are a number of things that have to happen before we feel comfortable about him playing.”
Several of the kick returners struggled to field the ball cleanly in breezy conditions on Saturday afternoon.
CB Marcus McCauley, who continued to occupy the starting spot at left corner, had a solid pass defensed against Bernard Berrian when he stepped in front of him.