Plays are a sure thing, but can Harvin hold that smile?

March 13, 2013 

Percy Harvin’s Everything-is-Beautiful visit to Seattle on Tuesday went a lot better than the last one did, when he accompanied the Minnesota Vikings into CenturyLink Field for a 2012 contest that served as a microcosm of his NFL career.

During a 30-20 Seahawks victory, Harvin caught four passes for 24 yards, ran twice for 10 yards, and returned a kickoff for 39 yards. The numbers barely suggested Harvin’s potential, as he took the field nursing a tight right hamstring and left it with the severe left ankle sprain that would end his season after nine games.

Oh, and there was this: After a second-quarter Vikings’ drive stalled and they were forced to settle for a field goal, Harvin and coach Leslie Frazier could be seen on the sideline, engaging in the sort of discussion typically described as “animated.”

In a span of three hours, Harvin revealed himself as a versatile talent who showed a broken-field burst, got hurt and argued with the coach. And yet nothing about Harvin’s checkered afternoon put off Pete Carroll, the former USC head coach who has been pining for the 24-year old Virginian since he was labeled the nation’s top high school wide-receiver prospect in 2006.

“He is such a threat as a wide receiver who can run and catch the ball as well as anybody,” Carroll said at Seahawks headquarters, where Harvin was introduced during an amiable press conference that found observers wondering: What’s not to like about this guy?

“He was really the No. 1 player in America when we were recruiting him,” continued Carroll, “and I think Mom just said, “We’re not letting him go far from home.”

It can be presumed Mom had no such misgivings about her son’s more lucrative relocation to the West Coast. The Seahawks are guaranteeing Harvin $25.5 million to do his thing, preferably with the smile he exuded Tuesday. Such enthusiasm wasn’t always on display in Minnesota.

“This thing is just so awesome on so many levels,” said Harvin, who cleared a first hurdle — would he demand to wear his customary No. 12, retired in honor of Seahawks fans? — by agreeing to change to No. 11.

Turns out Harvin’s affection for No. 11 dates back to high school. It’s all good.

Whew, so that’s out of the way.

Other issues may lurk for a star with a history of them, but Tuesday was too festive an occasion to dwell on Harvin’s penchant for turning untroubled waters into waves. A dynamic, multi-dimensional athlete has been obtained to fortify an already dynamic, multi-dimensional offense.

Carroll called Harvin “unique.” Strong word. When I asked him if there was anybody whose ability to elude tacklers is comparable, he volunteered ex-USC running back Reggie Bush. The Seahawks had a chance to sign Bush — he’s a free agent who last played for Miami — but instead, they worked out a trade with the Vikings that’ll cost three draft picks, including a first-rounder next month.

While it’s obvious Carroll thinks the world of Bush’s game, it’s just as obvious he thinks more of Harvin’s game, which gives quarterback Russell Wilson a slot-receiving target with an extra dimension — a conventional running back — that’s ideal for the zone-read chapter in the playbook.

But Harvin will be at his most explosive returning kickoffs, a side job that made the popular and reliable Leon Washington expendable Tuesday. Harvin won’t be asked to return every kickoff — there’s that $25.5 million guaranteed investment to think about — but when the score is close and time is tight and some magic is required, expect to see No. 11.

For Harvin, the kickoff-return gig, even on an irregular basis, is a perk.

“Coach Carroll asked me, ‘would you mind doing kickoff returns?’ I looked at him like, huh, are you kidding?’

“A kickoff return is one play that’s going to be a highlight, that gets all the fans standing up, that’s a game changer. I love that.”

As for Harvin’s take on Harvin, he’s not shy. He’s seen video clips of Bo Jackson and Marshall Faulk, and likens his ball-carrying style to them. Jackson was a 220-pound locomotive who never met a tackler he couldn’t level. Faulk was a 210-pound whirlwind who never met a tackler he couldn’t elude.

Harvin, listed at 5-foot-11 and 184 pounds, is shorter and lighter than those football legends. That he puts himself in their company is something worth celebrating.

The Seahawks essentially have swapped their first-round draft choice for an upgraded version of Reggie Bush, a hybrid wonder fundamentally rooted in the power of Bo Jackson and the grace of Marshall Faulk.

There’s much to like, a little bit to fear, and everything to watch.

I just hope he keeps the smile.


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