Staff writers Dan Wiederer and Mark Craig blog at Access Vikings on startribune.com. Here are the highlights of Saturday's reports from Mankato:
Priefer: Harvin is No. 1 returner
MANKATO - Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer has no trouble saying it. Percy Harvin is the team's No. 1 kick returner. That was clear Saturday morning when Harvin went through the morning walk-through on the first-unit kick return team. And it was clear when Priefer met with reporters afterward.
"Come Week 1, if he's ready to roll, we're ready to have him back there," Priefer said. "Absolutely."
If only it were that simple. Harvin returned 16 kickoffs last season, averaging 32.5 yards per return. He returned the season's opening kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown at San Diego and also had a 104-yard return in Atlanta in Week 12 that finished at the 3-yard line.
But as the season moved on and Harvin was dealing with nagging rib and shoulder injuries, the coaching staff was much more cautious about using him extensively on special teams, not wanting to endanger a playmaker they also count heavily on on offense.
In the four games Adrian Peterson missed in 2011, Harvin returned only two kicks.
That's why it will be interesting to monitor how the fourth-year speedster is used early this season as Peterson's return to health is also watched closely.
"I think we're going to have a good plan with Percy this year," Priefer said. "He is our No. 1 kickoff returner. When we have the opportunity to use him, we're going to use him."
Other guys in the mix at kick returner right now include rookies Josh Robinson and Jarious Wright plus Kerry Taylor and Bryan Walters.
Not just yet
Harrison Smith figures to be a starting safety before long. And the Vikings' internal hope is that the first-round draft pick takes control of that job before the Sept. 9 season opener against Jacksonville. Yet at the outset of camp, Smith is taking his reps with the second-unit defense as Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond work with the No. 1s.
Sanford made 15 starts a year ago. Raymond, who made a conversion from cornerback to safety in his rookie season, played sparingly in 2011. He didn't see significant time on defense until December but then started the Vikings' final five games.
So what's with Smith's current place on the depth chart?
"We want him to compete and win that job," coach Leslie Frazier said. "We'll see how it plays out over the next few weeks."
In other special teams news, both Priefer and Frazier have made it clear they intend to put significant pressure on rookie kicker Blair Walsh during camp.
Said Frazier: "We're going to have some competitive moments where we really want to get our fans involved and put a little pressure on him."
Priefer said the push to boost the pressure on Walsh is a different tactic than what he would have used had veteran Ryan Longwell still been the team's kicker. Longwell was released this offseason.
"Ryan was a proven commodity," Priefer said. "And Blair needs to prove himself. He knows that."
Frazier was asked after Saturday's practice if it was his goal to use Peterson in any of the Vikings' four preseason games. Peterson, remember, is still glued to his goal of being in uniform in action when the regular season starts Sept. 9 against Jacksonville at Mall of America Field.
"Ideally, if we're going to try to see him in the first game of the season, you'd like for him to get some work in the preseason at some point," Frazier said. "Now will that happen? I don't know. We'll see how he progresses. But ideally, you'd like to see him get some carries at some point in the preseason just for his benefit where he can gain some confidence and get a feel for where he is and where he needs to be by the first game of the season."