Chip Scoggins is a Star Tribune sports columnist. He has temporarily returned to cover the Minnesota Vikings. He had the beat from 2008-2011 after covering college football for five years. Chip has been with the Star Tribune since January 2000. He can be followed on twitter at @chipscoggins.Find Chip on Facebook.
Mark Craig has covered football and the NFL the past 20 years, including the Browns from 1991-95 and the Vikings and the NFL since 2003. Since 2008, Craig has served as one of the 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. He can be followed on Twitter at @markcraignfl.
Last year, around this time, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier kept hearing about Percy Harvin.
First, while coaching the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and later at the 2012 NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Frazier was repeatedly approached by opposing coaches, who in casual conversation just kept mentioning how much of a headache it was to defend Harvin.
The energetic slot receiver was just so slippery, so dynamic, so explosive.
The more Frazier heard from peers and foes about the stress Harvin could cause an opposing defense, the more he realized Harvin had to become an even bigger cog in the Vikings’ attack. And so plans were tweaked, Harvin’s role was enhanced and for eight games in 2012, the explosive playmaker did a little bit of everything.
He took bubble screens and short quick-hit passes and turned them into big gains. He lined up in the backfield and displayed his demolition derby style as a running back. He lobbied for more action on special teams and continued to be one of the league’s most electrifying return men, evidenced best by his 105-yard score in Week 4 in Detroit.
At the season’s midpoint, Harvin was the Vikings star being propped up as a league MVP candidate, not Adrian Peterson. Harvin was the one who seemed more responsible for the team’s 5-3 start, amassing a league-best 60 catches and totaling 739 yards from scrimmage with five total touchdowns mixed in. (Peterson, for the record, had 914 yards from scrimmage and four TDs after eight games.)
But now? Well, now all that Percy Harvin feel-good has been snowed under by a blizzard of Percy Harvin confusion. Most significantly: the question on whether Harvin will remain a Viking in 2013 and beyond cannot be answered definitively, fueling a new wave of speculation that he may soon be traded.\
To be clear, this uncertainty and these rumors have existed for a while now, even if they are just now mushrooming and making bigger headlines nationally. But much of the outside conjecture is justified as the Vikings coaching staff and front office continues keep the details of Harvin’s saga very, very private.
Percy Harvin? On the trading block? Could it be?
Yes. Yes, it could be.
When the Vikings head back to the Combine next week, you can bet they’ll cast a few Harvin-baited hooks into the waters and see if there are any nibbles. And with the 24-year-old playmaker heading into the final year of his rookie deal, now may be a practical time to pull the trigger.
After all, keeping Harvin happy in Minnesota in 2013 would likely require a lucrative long-term contract extension. And with the durability and personality question marks that are in permanent ink in Harvin’s evaluation file, the Vikings have to measure the risk-reward of investing in Harvin long-term versus dealing him for a few choice draft picks.
Are Harvin’s game-changing skills so valuable that they mitigate the ever-present worry that his moodiness may one day grow too toxic for a team looking to fuel its rise with low-maintenance, drama-free players? That’s what the Vikings must decide. And that decision is only complicated by the market value Harvin now has at a position where salaries are quickly escalating.
Publicly, neither Frazier nor General Manager Rick Spielman would benefit from openly declaring Harvin up for auction. But you can bet the Vikings will be listening to interested suitors at the combine, perhaps ready to move away from the dangerous temper wick attached to Harvin’s toughness, speed and elusiveness.
The abrupt end to Harvin’s 2012 season still registers as strange. Yes, there was the severe left ankle sprain Harvin suffered in the second half of a Week 9 loss in Seattle. And that was followed by a four-and-a-half-week stretch in which, despite a calculated combination of rest and rehabilitation, Harvin’s ankle just never improved enough for him to get back on the field. So the Vikings insist the decision to end Harvin’s season with a move to Injured Reserve on the Wednesday of Week 14 was purely protective, a decision to keep the always aggressive receiver from pursuing a return to action in a way that could endanger his long-term health.
But along with that plausible explanation comes the inevitable follow-up questions, the ones the Vikings never really did answer head-on: If the injury was the only thing being evaluated, then was it really a practical move to end Harvin’s season on Dec. 5, in the middle of a playoff push, with four regular games left? It was, after all just an ankle sprain. And wasn’t it peculiar that Harvin’s injury never required surgery and that the Vikings’ played their playoff game at Lambeau Field 62 days after the receiver sprained that ankle?
Seems only fair to wonder if Harvin might have been able to play in that contest.
And so the mystery looms, heightened even further when you think back to the awkwardness Frazier displayed on the podium at Winter Park hours before the Harvin-to-I.R. move was rubber-stamped.
Asked directly if there were issues beyond the ankle injury that were contributing to Harvin’s absence, Frazier paused and squirmed for a moment.
“You know, it’s …” Frazier said. “I know that he wants to win like we do. And I’m sure he’s going to do everything he can to do what he has to do to help our football team.
“We’ll see where it goes.”
READ BETWEEN THE LINES
Meanwhile, if you want direct and honest answers from the Vikings head coach and GM on their Harvin feelings? Sorry. That’s not going to happen. But here is what we can tell you about what Frazier and Spielman have said about Harvin since the Vikings’ season ended with a playoff loss in Green Bay last month.
First, there was Frazier’s insistence that Harvin’s odd disappearance from the team in December was no big deal and a firm declaration that the mercurial receiver “will coexist peacefully” within the organization going forward.
“He exists peacefully now,” Frazier said.
Sometime last month, Harvin finally returned to Winter Park for a mandatory exit physical. And here is how Frazier summarized his most recent conversation with Harvin.
“I told him how much I love him and want him to be a part of our team,” Frazier told KFAN’s Dan Barreiro in a Feb. 3 interview. “And all those things that he hears in questions that are asked to me about his future in Minnesota, I mean I want him to play for our team. I don’t want him to play for anyone else. And I tried to put that to rest with him. So he’s clear on how I feel. And we have great respect for one another and hope that things will be great next season.”
As for Spielman? In his season-ending gathering with local reporters, he denied that the team had concerns about Harvin’s attitude, saying flat out: “We have no issues with Percy Harvin.”
Which, of course, is exactly what a GM would say if a) he really had no issues with Harvin; or b) if he was being careful to minimize and hide any such problems so as not to scare off potential trade partners or reduce Harvin’s trade value.
You can see why the opening for conspiracy theories and speculation continues to open wide. And so, if you choose, you can be the one that reads between the lines on everything Spielman says. Like when he told KFAN’s Paul Allen in a radio interview Friday that he would love a scenario in which the Vikings went into April’s draft armed with 10 or 11 picks.
Wait … But … The Vikings only have eight selections at present. So Spielman had to have up something big in mind with that insinuation, right?
And how about the sudden silliness that sprung up Sunday when the Vikings’ 2013 season ticket poster was noted for having five standouts featured: Peterson and Jared Allen and Chad Greenway and Antoine Winfield and Christian Ponder.
No Harvin? That, the conspiracy theorists will argue, also has to mean something.
So yep, this is where a complicated situation can too often become overwhelmed with gossip and innuendo.
With well-rehearsed talking points, the Vikings continue to publicly discuss Harvin by expressing everything you already knew. That Harvin is a good football player. A blue-chip player in fact. And that he’s under contract for one more season. And then when paired with Peterson, he gives the Vikings two big-play threats that makes the Vikings offense very, very dangerous.
It’s also worth noting that commitment is a two-way street. So even if the Vikings were fully intent on finding a way to make things work with Harvin long-term, the receiver himself would have to reciprocate such interest.
And given that Harvin hasn’t done an interview in nearly three months, it’s hard to know what exactly he’s thinking about all this.
Instead, the soap opera continues, Harvin’s future as a Vikings as iffy as ever,
Adrian Peterson's MVP season looks a bit more incredible now that the abdominal injury he played through in December proved serious enough to require surgery.
The Vikings released this statement this morning: Adrian Peterson had a surgical procedure done today by Dr. William Meyers, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Dr. Meyers was able to successfully repair Adrian’s abdominal core muscle injury (sports hernia). We expect a speedy recovery with no long-term concerns.
Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards last season, eight short of the NFL record set by Eric Dickerson (2,105 in 1984). He was named the league's MVP on Saturday night in New Orleans, slightly more than a year after having major surgery on his left knee. Peterson was also named the league's offensive player of the year, and was first-team All-Pro.
And ... he played in the Pro Bowl in Hawaii on Jan. 27, although sparingly.
Now, it turns out, Peterson may have been pushing through severe pain for the Vikings' final six regular season games. In an interview Thursday afternoon with ESPN's Josina Anderson, Peterson said he suffered the sports hernia injury some time during the Vikings' 34-24 home win over the Lions on Nov. 11.
"I didn't know the extent I was hurt then," Peterson told ESPN. "I just remember getting twisted up pretty bad in an awkward position. ... "That next day I felt very uncomfortable in my groin and abdominal area. I thought to myself I'll just wait until I recover but I never did."
The Vikings played it safe with Peterson down the stretch of the season, repeatedly holding him out of practice in December and tailoring their approach so that he'd be as healthy as possible for game days.
"I knew I wasn't really practicing at all," Peterson said Thursday. "I wasn't able to lift because of the strain that it would put on those muscles on an upper- or lower-body workout. That was too much. It was mind over matter. It was just about doing what I had to do to push myself every week. My body was sore from the game and the sports hernia every Monday, so I did what I had to do to recover and get my body right.
"I just played through the pain. I ran on adrenaline."
Leading up to the Vikings' 36-22 victory in St. Louis on Dec. 16 -- a game in which Peterson ran for 212 yards -- he went on the injury report with what was being labeled an abdominal injury. Following his explosion against the Rams, Peterson was then listed as having an abdominal/groin issue which he said was "just normal wear and tear. I've been dealing with it the past couple of weeks. I've been doing the things I need to do as far as resting and conditioning and working out. It's all about that push to Sunday. I'll be ready to roll."
In Week 16, against Houston, Peterson carried 25 times for 86 yards. During that game, he said, the pain from the sports hernia reached its maximum.
"That was probably the worse I felt. That was the first time that I really doubted myself and questioned whether I would be able to continue the season. The pain was a 10 on a scale of 10."
Peterson rebounded in the season finale against Green Bay with 199 yards to challenge Dickerson's record and push the Vikings into the playoffs with a thrilling 37-34 win. The Vikings lost to the Packers on Jan. 5 in the wild-card playoff round 24-10 as Peterson had 99 yards rushing.
Recovery time on sports hernia surgery varies, since the seriousness of the injury varies wildly. But Peterson said his post-operative recovery time would be about 3-4 weeks.
Vikings teammate Geoff Schwartz (@GeoffSchwartz76) tweeted Thursday morning: "It's quite amazing. He's a beast. I made it 3 days in camp w/that injury before I needed surgery."
According to sportsmedicine.about.com: The typical sports hernia occurs when the muscle layer of abdominal wall in one specific area becomes thin relative to the other areas. This may result in a tear or strain in one of the abdominal muscles or the fascia of the abdominal wall. When that happens, the underlying internal organs, particularly the intestines, push up against the muscular wall and can cause significant pain. A sports hernia rarely causes any visible bulge in the muscle wall, so it is often overlooked for some time before it is diagnosed. The most common symptom of a sports hernia is a dull, aching pain in the lower abdomen or groin that gradually increases in severity. This pain generally increases with exercise or activities such as running or weight lifting.
At least three other Vikings have had surgery in the past couple of weeks. Defensive end Jared Allen had a torn labrum in his left shoulder repaired, punter Chris Kluwe had a meniscus tear in his left (non-kicking) knee fixed and center John Sullivan had a microfracture procedure on his left knee. All of those players played through their injuries this past season, none missing a game.
Kyle Rudolph, the Vikings' second-year tight end, will be in the Pro Bowl.
Rudolph was named an injury replacement today because Tony Gonzalez of the Falcons pulled out because of an injury.
Rudolph is the 17th replacement player named to the NFC team.
Other Vikings in the Pro Bowl are Jared Allen, Jerome Felton, Chad Greenway, Adrian Peterson and Blair Walsh.
Rudolph had 53 receptions, nine touchdowns and 493 receiving yards this season.
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