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Updated: September 11th, 2012 6:54pm
Notebook: Percy Harvin's lobbying to return kicks pays off in opener

Notebook: Percy Harvin's lobbying to return kicks pays off in opener

by Judd Zulgad
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Percy Harvin grew so tired of questions about his lack of use on kickoff returns last season that the Minnesota Vikings wide receiver eventually stopped answering them.

Harvin, who made the Pro Bowl as a returner by averaging 27.5 yards on 42 returns with two touchdowns as a rookie in 2009, ended up returning only 16 kicks all season.

Coach Leslie Frazier limited Harvin in this role because he was concerned about using him too much. Harvin, however, made it clear that he wanted to return kicks and wasn't happy watching from the sideline.

It appears after a season of going back-and-forth on the subject, that Harvin's message might have been heard loud and clear. He returned three kicks Sunday in the Vikings' victory over Jacksonville, averaging 29.3 yards with a long of 33 yards. Harvin was on the field for every kickoff, although Matt Asiata ended up with the football in his hands twice.

Harvin, who was on the field on offense for 47 snaps Sunday, said he still must lobby Frazier to be used on kickoffs.

"It's a constant," Harvin said of his lobbying. "Coach always wants to be hesitant, just on the kick returns and things like that. I told him, 'I'm fine. I'll be fine.' I'll be back there as much as possible so I don't think anything should change from game one."

Part of what concerns the Vikings about Harvin's style is the fact he is fearless on the field and thus puts himself in a position to take hard hits.

On Sunday, Harvin brought the ball out of his own end zone from 7-yards deep once and from 5-yards deep twice. He got to the Vikings 23-yard line twice and the 25-yard line once.

"We had a good return called," Harvin said when asked about his decision not to take the touchbacks. "Anytime we've got a return called that we think can go the distance, coach looks at me and says, 'If it's 8 or 9 (yards deep) and the ball is not hanging in the sky too much, feel free.' That's the time if I'm back there that I'm going to try to make a play. If it ain't out the end zone, I'm coming out."

While he finished the game with a team-leading six receptions for 84 yards and also rushed for 20 yards on five carries, Harvin said he held up fine coming out of Sunday's game and would be ready to go for Wednesday's practice when the Vikings begin preparations for their Week 2 game at Indianapolis.

Asked about his number of snaps he was on the field for and how many times he touched the football, Harvin said, "I don't really have a perfect number of snaps. I'll let the coaches do their jobs in managing all that and I'll just go. I'm going to go and go and let them manage that."

Applying pressure

Jared Allen is the defensive end who gets the majority of attention on the Vikings, but it was left end Brian Robison who made the big impression Sunday.

Robison, who became a starter last season after Ray Edwards left for Atlanta, hit Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert three times, pressured him three more, batted down a third-down pass, was in on five tackles and drew a holding call on right tackle Guy Whimper.

"I thought I played well," said Robison, who was in for 91.1 percent of the snaps (72) on Sunday. "I had two or three plays I wish I had played a little bit differently. But that is what it is. You have to go in and make the corrections. And hopefully I'll play better this week."

Robison did not get to Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert, despite applying pressure on him.

"Sacks are a number you always want to have," Robison said. "That's normally what gets you to Pro Bowls, things like that. But I think sacks can be a little misleading, too. I feel like if you're out there playing the game and offenses have to account for you, then you're doing your job.

"If you're out there making plays and even if you're not making tackles and making sacks but you're disrupting the QB, disrupting the run plays, things like that, that speaks volumes to me."

Frazier acknowledged he was pleased with what he saw from Robison.

"Brian got off to a great start," Frazier said. "And I think he is in position to hopefully have a breakout season. It'd be great for our team if that happens. But the way he played (Sunday), he's well on his way. Now can he put it together week in and week out?"

Frazier pointed out that Robison also got off to a very good start in 2011. He finished with eight sacks.

"We'd love to see him consistently bring pressure like he did," against the Jaguars, Frazier said. "And that allows us to blitz less and even helps our secondary a little bit more. He's off to a great start. He had a great camp, a great offseason, didn't miss anything. And it was great to see (Sunday) and we'd love to see him do it again against the team we're playing this coming Sunday."

That would be the Indianapolis Colts, who are led by rookie quarterback Andrew Luck. Luck, the top pick in last April's draft out of Stanford, completed 23 of 45 passes for 309 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions in the Colts' 41-21 loss last Sunday at Chicago.

Luck certainly has seen the tape of what Gabbert did against the Vikings, including his 39-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds left that came when Cecil Shorts beat cornerback Chris Cook.

Robison admitted that giving up that score, a touchdown that put the Jaguars up 23-20 for a brief period, did not sit well with anyone on the Vikings defense.

"I think the most frustrating thing was we were putting heat on (Gabbert) all day long and especially in that 2-minute drive," Robison said. "We were just inches away, couldn't quite get there. But credit to him. He was more mobile than we thought he was.

"He made throws at the right times and got rid of the ball just before we could get there. I think that's the most frustrating thing. And then the fact that we need to be able to close games out. And even though we won this game and closed it out in the end, we also gave them a chance to win the game at the end, too. So we have to get better at that." 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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