As a kick returner, Percy Harvin has had a frustrating couple weeks with two near home-runs that seemed to be the equivalent of a fly out to the warning track and a 450-foot bomb that sailed just outside the foul pole.
Last Thursday against Tampa Bay, Harvin didn’t see many pitches he could hit. He was back for eight kickoffs but only had a chance to return one as Bucs kicker Michael Koenen blasted the other seven through the end zone.
“Frustrating for all of us,” Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer said. “We kept preaching though in the huddle, he’s going to give us one.”
Harvin finally got that opportunity midway through the third quarter when he caught Koenen’s kick 7 yards deep and came out flying. He picked up a few solid blocks on the left side from Jerome Felton, Tyrone McKenzie and Rhett Ellison and almost broke free.
“I don’t know if you guys felt it but you can see it on tape,” Priefer said. “The crowd, as soon as the ball’s in the air, they know he’s going to bring it out. They all start standing up. My hair’s up on the back of my neck because I know we’ve got a chance. And he darn near broke it. He got up to the kicker.:
Koenen made a touchdown-saving tackle after a 43-yard return.
A week earlier against the Cardinals, Harvin’s 103-yard return for a touchdown was called back due to an illegal block in the back penalty on Marvin Mitchell, who was penalized for pushing Arizona’s Alfonso Smith.
Priefer acknowledged Thursday that was a legitimate flag.
“You have to call it because of where our guy was,” he said. “His hands were [extended]. I don’t even know if [Mitchell] hit him. But because the guy dove for Percy – and Percy was going to make him miss anyway, so I don’t even think we needed to – but because of the relationship of where he was, the official who called it was in the back and it looked like a block in the back.”
Here’s Priefer’s praise for Seattle return specialist Leon Washington: “He’s a really tough guy to bring down. He’s got great vision. I call it running back vision, because that’s what he is. He runs hard. And once he finds a seam, which a lot of guys can’t see, he can see it and he hits it downhill so fast that he’s extremely hard to tackle. Great quickness, great toughness. He’s a formidable threat. … His best trait is kickoff returns because he’s downhill faster. He’s already got the ball and he’s running downhill 15 or 20 yards before anyone even gets near him. And that’s where he’s a big-time threat. Because, again, he can see that seam and hit it full speed. We’ve got to do a great job of keeping leverage, a great job tackling him, a great job of wrapping him up and getting him down.”