Notebook: Percy Harvin won't return kickoffs on a full-time basis
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MANKATO, Minn. -- One source of frustration for Percy Harvin last season was the fact he was not used consistently on kickoff returns.
Harvin is easily the Minnesota Vikings' best kickoff return man and during his rookie season in 2009 he was voted to the Pro Bowl as a returner after averaging 27.5 yards and scoring two touchdowns on 42 regular-season returns.
He averaged 23.3 yards and had another touchdown on 40 returns in 2010, but last season ran back only 16 kickoffs. He still managed to score a touchdown, returning the season-opening kickoff against the Chargers 103 yards, and averaged 32.5 yards per return.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier is very aware of Harvin's value in this role, but he also doesn't want to overuse Harvin or subject him to injury. On Wednesday, Frazier said he will continue to make judgments on Harvin's use on kickoffs on a game-by-game or situation-by-situation basis.
"You can definitely see a difference when he's the guy returning kicks versus some of the other guys that we have," Frazier said. "It's obvious, but as we said before, you have to weigh what he gives us from an offensive standpoint as well and the way he plays. You have to weigh all of that when you're making a decision about putting him back there."
Harvin said the conversations with him about returning kicks have focused on using him when the team needs a spark.
"Probably in the beginning of the game, things like that," Harvin said. "Just a game changing situation. We flirted with it a little bit last year, but when Adrian (Peterson) and those guys went down we kind of went away from it. If the chance is there, I'll definitely be out there."
So what are the Vikings other options?
Marcus Sherels handled all 33 punt returns (8.4-yard average) last season in addition to 16 kickoffs (27.8) but isn't a lock to make the roster. Lorenzo Booker averaged only 23.7 yards on his team-high 19 kick returns and wasn't tendered as a restricted free agent.
The Vikings drafted rookies Josh Robinson and Jarius Wright in part for their potential in the return game and both have progressed well, according to special teams coordinator Mike Priefer. Receivers Bryan Walters and Kerry Taylor also have fielded punts and kickoffs so far in camp.
Walters, who signed with the Vikings as a free agent this offseason, hasn't returned a kickoff during the regular season but did take one back 103 yards for a touchdown during a preseason game for the San Diego Chargers in 2011.
Whatever was bugging Harvin during the June minicamp and caused him to briefly demand a trade, appears to be a thing of the past.
Harvin said Wednesday he loves the direction in which the Vikings' offense is headed.
"I think our quarterbacks are making the right reads, they're making them a lot quicker, we've been precise in our routes and I think just overall the offense knows the plays way better than we did last year," he said. "Instead of putting in the offense, we're just repping and adding wrinkles to things we already know."
The Vikings' offense was at a disadvantage from the start last year. The NFL lockout wiped out the offseason, meaning new coordinator Bill Musgrave had to install his system during training camp.
"I don't think we ever got it, just being we switched quarterbacks so much," Harvin said. "Christian really didn't get the camp (experience) as he's getting this year as the starting quarterback. I just think this year everybody has settled into the offense. I think Coach Musgrave knows everybody's strength and weaknesses and I like the direction our team is headed."
Asked how Ponder is better this season, Harvin didn't hesitate.
"Confidence. Just him having confidence in us, throwing the ball way before we get out of our breaks. Sometimes you may see the ball hit us in our faces because we weren't quite used to him throwing before we were getting out of our breaks.
"As a receiver, that's what you want. You want as soon as you come out of your break the ball is right on you. We couldn't get that rhythm last year, but I think we're heading that way this year."
'So far, so good'
The Vikings are hoping that Jasper Brinkley can take over as their starting middle linebacker, but the team still needs to see more from him.
Brinkley missed last season because of a hip injury and then he was sidelined for the June minicamp because of a groin injury.
"He's done well," Frazier said. "We were hoping to see him come along and do some things because we didn't have him in the offseason and we didn't have him, of course, last season. So far, so good. We're still early. ... (But) he's doing a good job. He's moving well. Hasn't had to be in the training room for any reason. He had a big hit the other day in practice."
Harvin is among the Vikings most talented players but he has little desire to discuss any goals he has set for himself this season.
"Better than 3-13, that's it," Harvin said when asked for his goals for 2012. "I have no personnel goals. I just want to win more games than three, get in the playoffs and see where we can go."
Harvin believes the Vikings are equipped to surprise many.
"We're heading in the right direction and we're working hard and guys are paying attention," he said. "Coaches ask a question in the meeting room and guys can stand up and speak their answer out. Last year, people were stuttering and guys didn't know the answers. But this year everything seems crisp, so we're just going to keep working and working and working and hopefully get a better result than last year."
Too much hype
Allen came a half-sack short of tying the NFL single-season record in 2011 and Kalil was the fourth overall pick in the draft last April.
But Allen, for one, isn't all that interested in making a big deal of the showdown.
"You guys are really trying to hype up this Kalil thing," he said. "I don't play him this season and he doesn't play me. We're going to continue to improve as each day goes, but it's just a healthy competition trying to work together."
Asked if part of his job was to help Kalil get better or Sundays, Allen said: "Yes and no. Honestly, for me, if I'm going through my process he's going to get better and vice versa. If he's working to get better, I'm going to get better. That's just cause of the competition level.
"But as far as that, it's not on me to prepare him to play for Sundays. That's on you. Just like it's not on him to prepare me to play on Sundays. That's between me and my coach and we've got to get ready to go."
Tight end John Carlson is expected to miss at least two weeks because of a grade-2 sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee suffered Tuesday.
Receiver Stephen Burton (toe) made his first appearance in contact drills Wednesday after the standard waiting period since he started camp on the active/non-football injury list.
Cornerback Josh Robinson (hamstring) did very limited work but was back on the field after being injured in the first practice last Friday. Safety Robert Blanton (hamstring) and tackle DeMarcus Love (shoulder) remained sidelined.
Halfback Adrian Peterson (knee) remains on the active/physically unable to perform list and continued to do rehabilitation work off to the side and in the weight room.
• The defense had another good day in an afternoon practice focused on blitz work, backed-up situations and screens. In team drills, Ponder completed 7 of 10 passes, including a bullet to Michael Jenkins on third-and-7 from in his own end zone. Joe Webb was 6-for-9 and Sage Rosenfels 3-for-8 with three interceptions -- one each to Brandon Burton, Reggie Jones and Bobby Felder, who caught a ball that bounced out of Emmanuel Arceneux's hands.
• Ponder and Jerome Simpson provided one of the highlights of Wednesday's practice when the quarterback hit the wide receiver in stride during a 7-on-7 drill with a pass that appeared to cover about 45 yards in the air. Simpson's catch drew big applause from the fans who braved the heat to attend the practice.
Tom Pelissero contributed