Harvin's versatility begs for play-calling creativity

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 5, 2009 - 7:30 AM

The Vikings' top draft pick can play any number of positions, and could give opposing defenses fits.

MANKATO - In the first week of Vikings camp, Percy Harvin has lined up at wide receiver and slot receiver, halfback and quarterback, punt returner and kickoff returner. To find a guy in more positions, you'd have to consult the Kama Sutra.

If Adrian Peterson is the V8 of the Vikings' offense, Harvin is the spinnin' rims. The speedster from the University of Florida just might become an every-down Devin Hester or a muscular David Palmer, which is where Brad Childress and Darrell Bevell come in.

As of 9:31 p.m. Tuesday, the Vikings' play-calling braintrust didn't have Brett Favre to caffeinate their offense, so Harvin will have to be their Red Bull.

"He's very shifty," Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson said. "He can play multiple positions, can get up the field. He's going to be a problem for defenses."

While we wait for reason to believe the Vikings have improved themselves at quarterback, we might as well watch Harvin, who could quickly become the second-most spectacular player in the offensive huddle.

In fact, Harvin might be the best test of Childress and Bevell yet. Had the Vikings signed Favre, he would have wound up changing the play in the huddle no matter what they sent in. With Harvin, the offensive coaches will have the depths of their creativity revealed, or their lack thereof exposed.

If the Vikings aren't creative, Harvin will be a decoy and kick returner. If they are creative -- and the way they use him in practice indicates that they're stealing from Arena League and CFL playbooks -- Harvin will have a chance to be a part of more strange formations than the rocks at Stonehenge.

Imagine being a defensive coordinator, and having to worry about Harvin, flanked by Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, taking a direct snap. Imagine Harvin and Peterson playing halfback alongside Favre -- I mean, Sage Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson -- out of the shotgun. Imagine Harvin going in motion into and out of the slot receiver position, or splitting out wide.

Imagine focusing on "All Day" (Peterson) and getting sliced and diced by "Every So Often" (Harvin), or "If I Feel Like It" (Bernard Berrian).

"We're going to throw a ton at him," Childress said of Harvin. "We're not trying to spoon-feed him. We're trying to really immerse him, and the sky's the limit in terms of different ways to get the guy the ball.

"He's not just a guy that has to be thrown to, or has to be split wide. I talked about [Philadelphia's] Brian Westbrook being the most-displaced guy in the National Football League. From the I-back, to the split-back, to the single-back, to the wing, to the mid-spot, to all the way out and everywhere in between, I think we can do some of those things with Percy."

Harvin puts the "if'' in Swiss Army Knife.

The kid is fast. You knew that. What surprises you is seeing how strong he is, and how good his hands are. Tuesday morning, he lined up in a receiving drill, drove the cornerback off, then snatched an inside pass with his fingertips.

A fan yelled, "Gaaa-tor Nation," a reference to Harvin's days at Florida, when he often looked like the best player on the field while playing in the best conference and biggest games in college football.

For Childress, Harvin is a gift, and a challenge. "Whether you're handing it to him, or throwing it to him, or he's in the return game, you're going to find a way," Childress said.

Let's hope so.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. jsouhan@startribune.com

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