Thursday, August 02, 2012

Percy Harvin: Part-Time Special Teams Weapon?

Interesting nugget from Judd Zulgad, the fine 9am co-host on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

(I'm a PA guy both by affiliation and by choice, largely because I feel the rube vibe when it comes to my sports passions, and because I enjoy even insanely-slanted football conversation at random times of the year. That said, Zulgad and the crew put on a good show if you're willing to grab the web stream. I'm not anti-competition by any stretch.)

Zulgad took note of the way the Vikings used stud receiver Percy Harvin on kick returns last season, and he asked head coach Leslie Frazier about it at training camp.

To be honest, the answer surprised me a bit.

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier is very aware of Harvin's value in this role, but he also doesn't want to overuse Harvin or subject him to injury. On Wednesday, Frazier said he will continue to make judgments on Harvin's use on kickoffs on a game-by-game or situation-by-situation basis.

"You can definitely see a difference when he's the guy returning kicks versus some of the other guys that we have," Frazier said. "It's obvious, but as we said before, you have to weigh what he gives us from an offensive standpoint as well and the way he plays. You have to weigh all of that when you're making a decision about putting him back there."

Harvin said the conversations with him about returning kicks have focused on using him when the team needs a spark.

"Probably in the beginning of the game, things like that," Harvin said. "Just a game changing situation. We flirted with it a little bit last year, but when Adrian (Peterson) and those guys went down we kind of went away from it. If the chance is there, I'll definitely be out there."

As Zulgad noted, Harvin only ran back 16 kickoffs last season. One of those -- the opening kickoff of Week 1 at San Diego -- was a touchdown. His average over the 16 was over 30 yards, a great total. By comparison, Harvin averaged 27.5 yards on 42 runbacks in his rookie season of 2009, scoring twice.

He's a dynamic weapon wherever the Vikings employ him, and that goes for special teams.

Frazier's stance is an interesting one. With all due respect, Harvin is not comparable to Devin Hester in this regard. Hester is also an elite kick returner, but he's never shown he can be an elite player at any other position on the field. He's never had more than 57 catches or four touchdowns in a season.

Harvin, meanwhile, has caught 218 passes in three NFL seasons, and he added "rushing threat" to his repertoire last season, carrying the rock 52 times for a 6.6 yard per carry average.

Basically, Frazier knows Harvin is a home-run threat every time the Vikings put the ball in his hands, no matter if it's as a running back or a receiver. Hell, Harvin could probably throw a few passes and make plays doing that, too.

However, there is a limit to a man's gas tank. Wearing Harvin down or unnecessarily exposing him to injury is just not sensical for a team coming off a 3-13 season and simply looking to get better.

But is it unnecessary?

The Vikings don't have any options at kick returner that jump off the page. Harvin's undeniable impact in that area makes me think his presence is "necessary" more often than not. When isn't a team coming off a three-win season looking for a spark?

It'll be interesting to see how many kick returns Harvin gets. The Vikings might not have options to run back kicks, but they have no one to take Harvin's role in the offense, either. Which is more important?

I think Harvin will run back more than 16 this season. I also think Frazier will use Harvin as a decoy, if nothing else, making teams kick to someone else. Remember, kickoffs are at the 35, so there will be fewer runbacks because kickers will more easily generate touchbacks. But if the Vikings are facing a team with a kicker who struggles to get the ball deep enough in the end zone, Harvin should be on the field virtually every time.

Not doing so is a disservice to the team. If you have a chance to break a game open, you break the game open, especially considering how rare an actual kickoff return should be with the new rules.

1 comment:

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