The Game Plan: Intriguing Vikings rookie, what to watch in Week 1
We're ready for some football, particularly after a fun Thursday night opener
My favorite on-field training camp memory this summer involved Percy Harvin
The Bengals are an AFC sleeper team, but only if Carson Palmer bounces back
NEW YORK -- Just what you need: more King. Well, you're getting it, like it or not. Welcome to the first edition of "The Game Plan,'' my new Friday column. This is the first of 22 weekly columns I'll write between now and Super Bowl Sunday.
The focus of the piece is going to be some aspect of the weekend's games that I find the most riveting. This week, it's going to be on Percy Harvin's impact on the Vikings entering their opener in Cleveland. I can't wait to see what he does this week, and in the 15 games to come. I'll be open to your suggestions for future columns, either in the box that accompanies this column, or on my Twitter page. I'll probably have a pretty good idea what I'm going to do each week following the Monday-nighter, but I'm always open to stealing good ideas from my readers. Send me your thoughts by the end of the day Tuesday, and who knows? Your idea may be what I explore that weekend.
In addition to six or eight paragraphs on what I can't wait to see, I'm going to give you other sections of the column:
Under Pressure. The player with the most to gain or lose in the weekend's games.
About Last Night. On the seven weeks when there's a Thursday night game, I'll give me my review of something that happened in the game that's significant for the future.
Ten Things I Think I'll Be Watching For This Weekend. Pretty self-explanatory.
With a nod to Hank Williams, I think we're ready for some football, particularly after a fun Thursday night opener whetted our appetites. So let's get it going.
My favorite on-field training camp memory this summer came in Mankato, Minn., during rookie all-purpose player Percy Harvin's second week of practice. Harvin, a 5-foot-11, 184-pound whippet, lined up in the shotgun as the Wildcat quarterback, and had his hands extended toward center John Sullivan, expecting the snap as he called out signals. Suddenly Harvin looked to his left, apparently expecting slotback Adrian Peterson to come in motion. When Peterson didn't move right away, Harvin whirled his left hand around and around, like a third-base coach waiving a runner home, and Peterson sprinted in motion. Harvin took the snap, then shoved a forward handoff to Peterson as he passed.
How interesting, this split-second moment in time. Here was a rookie still learning the way from the dorm to the practice field, and when he got out on the field, he was anything but a rookie. Harvin was comfortable enough in his own skin to say to the best back in football, in effect, Dude, you better not be slow coming in motion on my watch. Let's go!
When I brought this up to Harvin the other day, he seemed almost sheepish. He remembered it, all right, but said it happened because he and Peterson hadn't had much opportunity to work on the play yet. Harvin was doing a lot of different things in camp, and I think Sunday in Cleveland we'll see him as the game's most interesting weapon. I expect him to play four spots: slot receiver (maybe 15 snaps), wide receiver (15, and maybe more if Bernard Berrian's ouchy hamstring doesn't allow him to play much), Wildcat quarterback and punt returner (maybe five apiece). He might return kickoffs. He might line up as a running back. And if Berrian can't go, I bet Harvin starts alongside Sidney Rice.
"All the different things they're having me do isn't a problem at all,'' Harvin told me this week. "In fact, I love it. At Florida, I had to learn a lot of the running back stuff from the playbook and lots of receiver stuff. I know they're trying to work me hard so they can use me at a few places on the field, and that's good with me. With the first game so close, I'm really excited. This is what I've been waiting for, to play at this level.''
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell told me what's impressed him so far about Harvin is his "innate feel'' for the game. "Sage [Rosenfels] called a play and didn't like what he saw in camp, and he looked at Percy and just gave him a look, and Percy knew, and he changed the route he ran. He just a smart kid.''
"Very smart,'' said Brett Favre. "That's the thing that's impressed me so far. He picks things up so fast.''
Favre told Harvin, who is 18-and-a-half years younger than his quarterback, that he was young enough to be his son. In fact, Favre's daughter Brittany, a college junior, is 37 weeks younger than Harvin.
The combo platter of Favre to Harvin could be one of the most interesting in recent NFL history. Harvin had legitimate 4.3-second 40-speed and the ability to get behind almost every corner in the league. Favre's surgically repaired right arm has the ability -- at least now, when he's feeling well -- to hit him 50 yards downfield. In their one extended playing sequence together at Houston 11 days ago, Favre spied Harvin running a corner route into the end zone. Favre laid the ball up almost perfectly for him. Only problem was, when Harvin had beaten his man, he looked back for the ball and lost it in the lights. He had a step and a half on the Texan corner, and the ball glanced off his fingertips.
"I don't think that's going to happen again,'' Harvin said. Let the Browns be warned.
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