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Vikings try to get Percy Harvin more involved in offense

Associated Press Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin (12) is tackled by Buccaneers free safety Cody Grimm during the first half Sunday in Minneapolis. Harvin has been on the field for just 51 percent of the plays this season.

By Dave Campbell

AP Sports Writer

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings are trying to put wide receiver Percy Harvin on the field more.

Harvin leads the team with nine catches and 83 yards receiving through two games, plus 33 yards rushing and a kickoff return for a touchdown on the first play of the season at San Diego. But Harvin was only used on about half of the snaps in last week's loss to Tampa Bay, largely because he's not a part of a certain formation the Vikings used often and ran the ball well out of in that game.

Adrian Peterson ran for 120 yards on 25 carries, gaining many of those yards out of that formation. So Harvin stood on the sideline.

Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, though, said Harvin is one of the team's best blockers and is not by any means automatically out when the Vikings want to run. Harvin himself is used in the ground game.

"We'll look for Percy to be out there as much as we can get him, of course," Musgrave said.

Harvin wasn't on the field at all on Thursday, missing practice because of what coach Leslie Frazier described as an illness -- but not a recurrence of the migraine headaches he's been plagued by in the past. Frazier said Harvin began to feel sick in the morning, but expected him to return to practice on Friday.

According to a video review by Twin Cities sports radio station website, Harvin was on the field for only 30 of 68 snaps against the Buccaneers and 27 of 43 against the Chargers. That's only 51 percent.

Harvin, having grown tired of answering questions from reporters about being a part-time kickoff returner while sharing the role with Lorenzo Booker, diplomatically deferred to Frazier and Musgrave when asked this week about his involvement in the offense.

"Coach decisions. We have different packages. We have certain situations where I may not be in certain packages, because it might call for something else," Harvin said.

Quarterback Donovan McNabb didn't see a problem.

"I felt like he was on the field all the time with us because every time I look up he's either getting the ball or whatever it may have been. He was in the huddle," McNabb said.

With a new system, a new coordinator, a new quarterback and even a new left tackle, the Vikings were arguably hurt by the lockout as much as any other team. So while they've put together some smooth, productive drives, even dominating the first half last week against the Buccaneers on their way to a 17-0 lead, they have a lot of work to do to become a consistent unit that can score when it needs to.

The soft-spoken Musgrave has faced plenty of questions about his plan. After losing to the Chargers, there was evidence the Vikings became too predictable in handing the ball off to Peterson at the beginning of a possession. Against the Buccaneers, they showed better balance but might've strayed too far from Peterson in the second half while failing to connect on any deep balls. Toby Gerhart had a 42-yard reception, but that came from a screen pass.

This week, Harvin's use was a hot topic among fans around town and during Musgrave's media availability.

"We definitely want to expand Percy's dynamic ability. We want to do a lot of good things in all packages, and certain packages Percy is a part of and certain packages he's not," Musgrave said. "We want to play to his strengths. He's so dynamic and he plays with such passion that we want to get effectiveness and get a good bang for our buck when he is on the field."

The Vikings have converted 1 of 9 third downs in the second half this season. Those are the ideal situations for Harvin to have heavier involvement, given his ability to move around the field in different positions, break tackles and run by defenders.

Musgrave suggested stamina and a lack of an aggressive attitude playing with the lead might have been factors in the second-half flops. Harvin, refusing to identify the culprits, said players lined up in the wrong formation twice last week.

"It's nothing physical. We're not getting outworked blocking-wise. We're fundamentally sound," he said, adding: "We have to play a little better. Execute a little better. Not lose our heads at times."

Given Harvin's history of migraines, which sidelined him for a huge chunk of the preseason last year and kept him out of three games in his first two seasons, Frazier has clearly preferred caution when it comes to Harvin.

"There's nothing he has to prove. We know what Percy is capable of doing. He's a big-time playmaker, whether it's kickoff return or playing wide receiver. It's just a matter of using his strengths to our greatest advantage, to our team's advantage, and picking out spots where we can do that. I think we've taken the right approach with Percy with his reps and the packages that we use him in."