With Harvin and Peterson, Vikings eye more quick strikes

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Practice was over, but Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin wanted to get in some extra conditioning, so they ran sprints back and forth across the field in the Vikings indoor facility.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Practice was over, but Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin wanted to get in some extra conditioning, so they ran sprints back and forth across the field in the Vikings indoor facility.

This wasn't a race, and they weren't going full speed, but one couldn't help but wonder what would happen if those two did line up to see who is faster.

Peterson pretended to be a reporter during training camp and playfully posed that question to Harvin during a mass interview. Others have asked the same thing. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, for one, gives the nod to Harvin, the rookie wide receiver from Florida.

"In my opinion he's the fastest guy on the team," Jackson said. "A lot of guys would probably argue that. But being a quarterback, compared to throwing the ball to some other guys, he's the fastest guy on the team. He's probably the quickest guy on the team too. Very seldom do you find a guy that quick, that fast, that has long speed and can catch the way he does and run routes."

It didn't take long -- actually only a few minutes -- before that quote reached Peterson, who never backs down from any challenge.


"We all know that you are definitely entitled to your opinion but like I told T-Jack and Percy, 'You can't beat me,'" he said. "The only way I'm going to say you beat me is if we line up and we race a 40-yarder or 100 yards. If you beat me then I can hand the crown over. Until then I'm holding on."

Will that race happen?

"Keep watching," Peterson said. "Stay tuned."

That probably won't happen any time soon, but the Vikings take comfort in knowing they can use their two speed-burners on the field together. Coach Brad Childress version of the West Coast offense has been criticized as too predictable, but the coaching staff seems intent on opening up the playbook this season in order to maximize its cast of playmakers.

The Vikings have the NFL's most explosive running back in Peterson, a dynamic talent in Harvin, a speedy wide receiver in Bernard Berrian, an emerging star in tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and a versatile third-down back in Chester Taylor. Oh, and a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Brett Favre, who's job is to get the ball in his playmakers' hands.

The Vikings ranked 17th in the NFL in total offense last season, but they scored a league-high 18 touchdowns on plays of at least 20 yards. They ranked sixth with 63 plays overall of at least 20 yards.

"We have a handful of guys that can get the ball and take it to the end zone," Peterson said. "I think that's what makes us special. It's not just me that can take it. You have Percy, Shiancoe, Bernard Berrian, Chester. You have some guys that can take it to the house."

The Vikings intend to employ different formations and personnel groupings with their playmakers to pressure defenses. They gave a glimpse of that against the Houston Texans in their third preseason game.


Harvin twice took the direct snap in their version of the Wildcat offense. The first time he handed off to Peterson, who came in motion. Harvin kept the ball and ran the second time. The Vikings also unveiled a formation in which Favre lined up in shotgun, flanked by Peterson and Taylor in the backfield with Harvin as the slot receiver.

"You never know what to expect," Shiancoe said. "You can never key in on one person or one guy. It's not just one player that is the offense. It's spread around. ... It's very confusing to the defense. You almost have to play vanilla defense, play it honest, because you don't know where it's coming from."

Naturally, all of this is predicated on health and precise execution. But the Vikings undeniably have more playmakers on offense than in recent seasons. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said his challenge is to use all the tools at his disposal.

"We do have offensive playmakers now probably at each and every position, whether it is the wideouts, tight ends, running backs," Bevell said. "So the problem for me is how to get them all the ball. So they are all going to be complaining, which they should, that they want the ball, because each guy can make plays for us."

Peterson, of course, remains the focal point. Last week Childress described his Pro Bowl running back as the best player in the NFL, and he's capable of breaking a long run every time he touches the ball. He torched the Texans on a 75-yard touchdown run on the first play of their preseason game.

"He can go the distance on any play," quarterback Sage Rosenfels said.

Harvin will make his NFL debut Sunday at Cleveland, but he's generated plenty of buzz already with his speed and versatility as an athlete. He will be used primarily in the slot but can play multiple receiver spots. He also will run the Wildcat, take handoffs and return kickoffs.

A hamstring injury sidelined Berrian for most of the preseason but when healthy he gives the offense a vertical threat. He led the NFL in yards per catch (20.1) last season and owns two of the three longest receptions in team history, including a 99-yard touchdown against the Chicago Bears.


Shiancoe seems poised to become an elite player at his position after catching seven touchdown passes last season, which tied for third among all NFL tight ends.

Taylor is one of the most productive third-down backs in the NFL. He led all running backs with 25 catches on third down last season, which included 11 that resulted in first downs. His average yards per catch on third down was 10.5.

"When you have a lot of athletes like that on the field, that can make plays, you can switch it up to different formations," Peterson said. "Like the Wildcat. It can throw the defenses off. You got me that can spread out wide. You have Percy in the backfield with Chester. You don't know who the ball is coming to."

Harvin has added a new dimension to the offense because of his speed and ability to play multiple roles. Bevell added a batch of new plays specifically to get the ball in Harvin's hands.

"He's just a playmaker man," Peterson said. "He's one of those guys who falls into that category of, guys that can change the game like that."

Peterson snapped his finger for emphasis. Favre said Harvin's football knowledge impresses him as much as his physical talent.

"I think that's something you're either born with or not," Favre said. "You can't coach it. You really can't coach speed and quickness and things like that. (Harvin) told me last week that he worked with (former Green Bay Packers receiver) Antonio Freeman, who to me is a perfect example -- I don't want to say an overachiever -- but he didn't have as good a talent as Percy has. But we all know how productive he was. He had great football knowledge. Percy has some of that in him. He has a feel for certain things. You see when he gets the ball in his hands how well he makes plays."

The Vikings say they believe that Harvin's playmaking ability will force defenses to play more honest and not stack the box to stop Peterson. Harvin's presence also should help Berrian and Shiancoe in the passing game because teams must account for his speed.


"In today's game you can run the ball, run the ball, run the ball, which the Vikings do very well, but somehow, some way you've got to get explosive plays," said ESPN analyst and former quarterback Ron Jaworski. "It's hard to go 80 yards in 12 plays against the great defenses now in the National Football League. I think when you get a Percy Harvin or Bernard Berrian, a Visanthe Shiancoe, (they) can give you those big plays. As I look at this Minnesota team, the addition of Percy Harvin gives them that explosive play which means more points on the board."

The Vikings hope that's the case. Now it's up to them to take advantage of Peterson, Harvin and the rest of their playmakers.

"For the coordinator and the head man," offensive lineman Artis Hicks said, "it gives them a lot of toys to play with out there."

-- (c) 2009, Minneapolis Star Tribune/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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