Last Monday, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier was pleasantly surprised when he heard from one of his injured stars who just landed in Minnesota.
It was Memorial Day, and it was also Percy Harvin’s 24th birthday. But the dynamic receiver — still recovering from shoulder surgery in April and not able to practice — was reporting to work anyways. There’s simply no time to celebrate anything in Minnesota. Not with the franchise hoping to bounce back from two straight dismal seasons that have ended with the Vikings finishing dead last in the NFC North division.
“I gave him a big hug when he showed up,” Frazier told The Associated Press. “He texted me Monday night, Memorial Day, because I wasn’t sure what his flight schedule was going to be. He said, ‘I’m in town, what doctors do I have to see tomorrow morning?’ I texted him back, ‘Is this the Percy Harvin? The real Percy Harvin?’ So just great for our meetings, great for our coaches to see him around.”
The former first-round draft pick out of Florida hasn’t been able to join the team for optional practice this week. However, he’s training on the sidelines with another player who shares his pain and then some, Adrian Peterson, who’s working his way back from a torn ACL and MCL that he suffered just six months ago in Week 16. Harvin and Peterson have been pushing each other while doing drills in the sand pit and running up and down hills side-by-side, knowing their team’s recovery is also running parallel to theirs.
Peterson even beat his teammate up the hill a couple times on Wednesday.
“He’s amazing. I told him the other day I don’t think he’s human,” Harvin said. “Two weeks ago he beat a couple guys in a race. When I got here yesterday, I told them guys they should be embarrassed.”
For more reasons, Harvin was hoping he wouldn’t be held to his date with the hill and Peterson. That’s because he says he could have practiced Wednesday if the decision was up to him.
“I feel great. No limitations. Got all my strength back. It’s just precaution,” said Harvin, who will instead try to convince coaches to let him practice as early as next week. “They don’t want me to fall or do anything crazy right now during these drills. Hopefully next week I should be back out here.”
Harvin said he was injured in Week 6 or 7 of last season, and the nagging pain would force him to sit out a play or two in games and miss some practices during the year. He tried to let it heal naturally over the offseason, but opted for surgery as the pain persisted while lifting weights.
“I didn’t know exactly to what extent it was so they looked at it and decided to go in there and scope it out,” Harvin said. “So I feel great, I’m kind of glad I got it done so now I have no restrictions as far as on the field. So I’m real positive.”
Despite the injury, Harvin — entering his fourth year as a pro — continued to solidify himself as one of the most versatile slot receivers in the NFL. He caught a career-high 87 passes — good for fourth among NFL receivers last season — to go with 967 yards and six touchdowns last season. He also finished third on the team with 345 rushing yards and added a kick return for a touchdown.
It wasn’t enough to steer the Vikings away from a 3-13 season, but when it was over, Harvin vowed to be a Purple People Leader by arranging workouts and getting teammates to show up in Minnesota when the coaches asked. The only veterans not at camp on Wednesday were defensive end Jared Allen, linebacker Chad Greenway and center John Sullivan. Two of those players had good excuses with Greenway dealing with a family situation and Allen electing to go solo and do the same offseason program in Arizona that helped him record a league-best 22 sacks last season.
While Harvin hasn’t been able to participate on the field, he’s doing what he can off the field with second-year Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder and the rest of the team.
“It means a lot for sure,” said Ponder, who was inserted as the team’s starter for the last 10 games of 2011. “Obviously he’s not able to play right now, but he’s in the meetings, he’s in rehab and doing as much as he can. He’s hanging around the guys. He’s helping out the younger receivers. He’s being vocal. We love having him here. I think it shows a lot that he’s such a great team player and he’s such a great guy that he’s spending his time up here when he doesn’t have to be.”
Harvin has spent time in the classroom getting the slew of new receivers taught up in second-year coordinator Bill Musgrave’s offense, which includes a variety of creative personnel packages. Among the new wideouts are rookies Jarius Wright and Greg Childs — the tandem from Arkansas — and former Bengal Jerome Simpson, who was acquired after a standout year in Cincinnati last season.
“I can’t wait until he gets back so I can see some of that speed everybody’s been talking about,” Simpson said.