Harvin taking on leadership role for Vikings
By Jon Krawczynski, AP Sports Writer
MANKATO -- Percy Harvin watched an undrafted rookie receiver chase down a deep ball, slow up on his route and try to outjump the smaller cornerback for a pass that fell incomplete.
"Hey 1-5! 1-5!" Harvin hollered at No. 15, Andre Holmes, as he jogged back up the sideline.
Harvin beckoned him over and had a quiet and brief conversation before the next play.
"A lot of those guys want a jump ball instead of running underneath it so that's just one of the little things I know I did a lot," Harvin said Saturday. "You always want to jump because you feel like you can get it. So just the little things that I struggled with to help those guys and make it smoother. I want these guys to be around. I want them on this team bad."
One of the most pleasant surprises in Vikings coach Leslie Frazier's hectic, post-lockout world has been watching Harvin. The receiver was once dogged by character questions that caused him to slip in the draft, but he emerged as a vocal leader and emotional tone-setter early in training camp.
The dynamic Harvin is entering his third season, and so far the only thing that has been able to slow him down are recurring migraine headaches that he hopes are finally under control. With Sidney Rice gone to Seattle, Harvin is now the unquestioned leader of Donovan McNabb's unsung receiver corps.
"I'll tell you there is no way that I would have predicted over this lockout that Percy would have come back taking a leadership role that he has," Frazier said. "From the moment the lockout was lifted and we could contact players, it's been refreshing just talking to him and just seeing his attitude about this season.
"The fact that he's leading, he's talking to other players, explaining to them what needs to be done, how things are done."
Harvin isn't taking the responsibility lightly. When the lockout was finally lifted, he was the first one to roll into Vikings headquarters to meet with his new offensive coordinator and new teammates. Frazier said he was also among the first to take the team physical and head down to training camp in Mankato.
"I mean wow," Frazier said. "This is what you want from one of your star players. He's having a very good camp and it's exciting for us to see as a staff him stepping into that leadership role. We need that from him."
The speedy Florida Gators wideout slipped to No. 22 in the first round in 2009 after a positive test for marijuana at the NFL combine turned some general managers away. Harvin never shied away from taking responsibility for his mistake, and he has been the model teammate through the first two years in the NFL.
He won AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and made the Pro Bowl as an all-purpose demon in 2009, but missed two games last year with migraines and was troubled by the team's 6-10 finish.
Unhappy with what he saw on the field and in the locker room, Harvin said he came into 2011 determined to be more vocal and assertive.
"I think that's just what this team needs," Harvin said. "I think maybe last year we got away from it a little bit. But I think this year as far as the receiving group, me, Bernard (Berrian), for those guys to follow our lead would be good for this team. I just want to go out there and do the best I can and hopefully those guys follow and all of us can become great and help this team."
With Berrian coming off a down season and free agents Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu not exactly conjuring images of Randy Moss in his prime, Harvin is expected to be the No. 1 target for McNabb.
"He's the bully on the block," receivers coach George Stewart said. "He's a guy that has outstanding physical toughness. Everything you want in a receiver, Percy Harvin has. He's smart, he's tough, he can catch the ball. He can run. He's very fast. He's physical."
The only thing he might be missing is a few more inches on his powerful frame.
At 5-foot-11, Harvin doesn't have the size of a prototypical No. 1 receiver. But if there is any quarterback equipped to overcome that, it's McNabb. Other than his brief tag team with Terrell Owens, McNabb has always seemed to work with undersized pass catchers.
"I've played with guys who play big but are of shorter stature who have been so successful," McNabb said. "You talk about guys like DeSean Jackson, Santana Moss. There's no reason why Percy can't be a guy who is a perennial Pro Bowler as a starter at the receiver position. Over 1,000 yards receiving and 80 to 90, 100 catches."
The Vikings also expect to use the versatile Harvin in the backfield and on kick returns, so he will have plenty of opportunities to put his fingerprints on the new offense.
"The key is getting him his touches to let him do his thing," offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said.
Now his thing includes so much more than just putting the ball in the end zone. Everyone is looking at him to set the tempo, indoctrinate the youngsters and speak up when it's needed.
"When he came in, he was kind of quiet because we had Sidney Rice, Bernard Berrian, Bobby Wade, we had some older guys," Stewart said. "Now he's looked at as that guy. He's our Pro Bowler. We look at him as our bail-out guy."
Still only 23, Harvin readily admits he has a long way to go himself. He still regularly consults with Moss and other veterans who have helped him early in his career, looking for tips and insight that he can pass on to the rest of his teammates.
"There's always learning to do," Harvin said. "But we're going to get it."