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Updated: July 28th, 2012 12:47pm
When available, Vikings' Percy Harvin 'is our No. 1 kickoff returner'

When available, Vikings' Percy Harvin 'is our No. 1 kickoff returner'

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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MANKATO, Minn. -- Preserving Percy Harvin's health remains a point of emphasis for the Minnesota Vikings, who scaled back his work on kickoff returns last season.

But there's no question in Mike Priefer's mind about who he wants to use if the choice is up to him.

"As far as I'm concerned, Percy is our number one kickoff returner," the Vikings' special teams coordinator said between training-camp practices on Saturday.

"We have several other returners on the roster, obviously, and we're going to work as many guys as we can in training camp and in preseason games. But come Week 1, if he's ready to roll, we're ready to have him back there, absolutely."

Harvin returned last season's opening kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown at San Diego and had a 104-yarder at Atlanta, helping his career-best average of 32.5 yards.

But he returned only 16 kickoffs total -- down from 42 in 2009, when he went to the Pro Bowl as a return man, and 40 in 2010 -- because the Vikings wanted to ensure he was available for his expanded role in new coordinator Bill Musgrave's offense.

"We have an idea how we want to use him," coach Leslie Frazier said. "It's one of those things where we'll always be conscious of how much we're going to be using him on offense and what we need from him on kickoff return.

"He's such a threat as a returner, but at the same time, he's one of our most valuable players on offense. We have to balance that. He's one of those guys who goes so hard that you don't want to jeopardize what he can give you in totality. So, we do have a plan, but we'll see how things go from game to game."

That Harvin took the first rep with the kickoff return team on Saturday didn't go unnoticed.

"I think we're going to have a good plan with Percy this year," Priefer said. "He is our number one kickoff returner. When we have the opportunity to use him, we're going to use him. If he's not back there for whatever reason, we're going to train two or three other guys to make sure that we have a capable backup and we'll go from there."

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 Priefer. Receivers Bryan Walters and Kerry Taylor also have fielded punts and kickoffs so far in camp.

Like many other competitions, Priefer said, return opportunities will sort themselves out in the preseason -- other than Harvin's chances, which figure to be sorted out by coaches on a week-to-week basis.

"In the spring, they did so many reps, and we got an idea who can catch a little bit better, who's a little bit more explosive, who can do some things," Priefer said. "But we said this in the spring during minicamp, that before the pads come on, you don't really know what you have.

"Are the guys going to be a little bit more courageous or less courageous when people are running down on them, especially on punt? So, I'm really excited to put the pads on next week and see where we're at and obviously, in less than two weeks, see where we're at the first preseason game."

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.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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