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Updated: November 11th, 2011 3:58pm
Notebook: Vikings focus on opening drives; Percy Harvin's rib healed?

Notebook: Vikings focus on opening drives; Percy Harvin's rib healed?

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Self scouting during the bye week yielded several areas of emphasis for the Minnesota Vikings offense, but one was fairly obvious.

"I don't think we felt like we did as well as we could have, both in the first half and second half opening series, especially on the road," offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said on Friday. "We want to start faster at the front end of both halves."

On eight game-opening drives, the Vikings have averaged 4.38 plays, 23.1 yards and one first down -- underwhelming numbers, to say the least.

Those eight drives have ended in four punts, an interception, two field-goal attempts (one miss) and one touchdown, thanks to Michael Jenkins' 72-yard reception on the first play against Green Bay on Oct. 23 at the Metrodome. Four opening drives on the road have yielded 8 yards and no first downs.

The Vikings' eight opening drives for the second half have yielded almost identical averages: 4.63 plays, 17.5 yards and one first down. Five have ended in punts, one in a fumble and two scores -- a field goal on Oct. 2 at Kansas City, a touchdown at Chicago on Oct. 16 -- set up by short fields.

"We talked about it when we were doing our evaluations of our team," coach Leslie Frazier said. "It's something we want to get better at, on both sides of the ball."

Like many teams, the Vikings script a set number of plays, formats and sequences they want to get to early in games, although the actual deployment is dictated in part by game flow. Coaches present anywhere from five to 15 plays to the team, Musgrave said, so players can "anticipate what calls are going to be made in certain situations, especially to start out a game so they can visualize it before it actually happens."

Adjusting how those scripted series operate could be on Musgrave's menu beginning on Monday night at Green Bay. But it was just one of the focuses he rattled off on Friday, along with passing better, improving on first and second downs and utilizing backup halfback Toby Gerhart to ease the load on All-Pro Adrian Peterson, who is tied for the NFL lead with 166 carries.

"We want to add to our repertoire of plays, protect our good ones, but at the same time not dilute the pot so we're not good at anything," Musgrave said. "We want to keep hanging our hat on our staples that we feel confident in, but at the same time add a couple complementary wrinkles that can not only give us some juice but also protect our good things that we do so that we're not so easy to key on."

Sticking with Harvin

Three different players have kick returns of at least 68 yards for the Vikings this season. But special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said he's not tempted to give Lorenzo Booker or Marcus Sherels more opportunities if Percy Harvin is healthy and available.

"No way," Priefer said. "Would you be? No way. He's too special."

For the first time since Oct. 9, when he reinjured the rib that has bothered him since early in training camp, Harvin isn't on this week's injury report.

"He looks, man, as fresh as he did when we came to training camp," Frazier said. "He looks great, and that's good for our football team."

Harvin had a 103-yard touchdown return on the season's opening kickoff at San Diego, but he has returned only eight kickoffs since, for a 22.1-yard average.

In his absence, Lorenzo Booker had a 68-yard kick return on Sept. 25 against Detroit and Marcus Sherels went 78 yards on the opening kickoff at Carolina.

"That's pretty rare," Priefer said. "We're pretty fortunate to have the guys that have the ability to do that. And I think that's a tribute to the guys blocking. It's been mainly the same guys week-in and week-out that have blocked on that unit, and they've done a really nice job for us."

Give and receive

The Vikings' last game on Oct. 30 at Carolina yielded an expanded receiving role for Peterson, who finished with a career-high 76 yards on five catches.

That included a 19-yard touchdown on a screen pass, two shovel passes and two checkdowns over the middle from rookie quarterback Christian Ponder when the Panthers' linebackers bailed in zone coverage.

"I feel like I'll be more involved," Peterson said. "If I'm open, I'm sure (Ponder will) find me. Once he goes through his reads, I'm just kind of like that guy he can come to in need. I'm going to do my best as far as getting open, and he's got to do a good job of finding me."

Opponents have ganged up to stop Peterson all season, regularly playing a safety in the box on more than half of snaps. He nonetheless is averaging 4.8 yards per carry, but increasing his involvement in the passing game would be one way to help him past the first line of defense.

"We'd love to be balanced," Musgrave said, "and that's our goal, of course, is to feature Adrian and at the same time be able to throw it over their head. It's not the back-line head, but sometimes it's the front line of the defense, their head as well."

No problem

Priefer said his bye-week analysis identified "something minor" that has been affecting place-kicker Ryan Longwell, who has missed as many field-goal attempts (three) over the past four games as he did all of last season.

Priefer declined to discuss specifics but said "it's probably the whole operation" and has been addressed in practice this week. After starting the season 8-for-8, Longwell has missed from 38 yards against Arizona, 38 yards at Chicago and 45 yards at Carolina -- all wide left. He also has hit from 53 and 52 yards in that stretch and is 13-for-16 (81.3%) this season.

"Should they make those short ones? Sure," Priefer said. "But every field goal or every PAT has a lot of moving parts to deal with it, whether it's the snap, the hold, the kick, the footing, the protection. All those things kind of go into that."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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