By John Boyle Herald Columnist
SEATTLE — One return in a Wednesday practice was all it took for Percy Harvin to know he was ready.
After feeling a bit hesitant in prior practices and workouts, Harvin finally opened things up on Wednesday during the special teams portion of practice, and from that point on, the Seattle Seahawks receiver went into full-on lobbyist mode.
All week, Harvin was in head coach Pete Carroll’s ear, not just to let him make his Seahawks debut, but to also return kickoffs. Carroll’s public stance was that they would ease Harvin back into action after a long layoff, likely avoiding kick-return duty, and he gave Harvin that same message. But on Sunday, Harvin still wasn’t willing to take no for an answer, begging Carroll to let him return kicks, while also asking teammates and assistant coaches to plead his case to Carroll for him.
And finally, when circumstances worked out just right for Harvin — regular return man Jermaine Kearse was out of the game with a concussion, and the Seahawks were looking for a spark late in the first half — Carroll relented. And Seattle’s prized offseason acquisition rewarded his coach for it, taking his first return as a Seahawk 58 yards in the final minute of the first half, setting up a touchdown that helped the Seahawks blow open what would eventually become a 41-20 victory.
“I talked to him, I had the offensive coordinator yelling at him on the headsets,” Harvin said. “I had the guys upstairs in the box yelling at him, I had his son (offensive assistant coach Nate Carroll) yelling at him. It was something I wanted real bad.”
“I don’t know who did what, but he just ran and shouted at me and said, ‘get your tail in there.’”
Sunday was Harvin’s first NFL action in more than a year, so the Seahawks wisely eased him back in, but in just 16 offensive snaps and two special teams plays, his impact was noticeable.
We only got a glimpse, just a tease of what Harvin can be, but in limited action against his former team, Harvin showed he will be a difference maker down the stretch. Somehow, a team that came into Sunday’s game with an NFC-best 9-1 record got significantly better, and Seattle’s offense should only continue to improve as Harvin is fully integrated into the game plan.
“He’s an extraordinary football player, but he’s a better competitor,” Carroll said. “And that’s what we love about him. … We’re very fortunate to have him.”
If Harvin had any rust having been sidelined for so long — his last game was Minnesota’s Nov. 4 loss here last year, a game in which he suffered a season-ending ankle injury — he didn’t show it the first time he had a chance to make a play. Facing third-and-10, in the second quarter, quarterback Russell Wilson fired a pass to Harvin that had to be high to beat coverage, and Harvin elevated and pulled the ball in with one hand to secure a 17-yard gain. That kept alive a drive that ended on the second of three Marshawn Lynch touchdowns.
Harvin’s second touch was the kick return that led to another touchdown, so while he was limited, he made an impact with those two plays.
“Oh, man, it’s just a premonition of things to come,” said defensive tackle Clinton McDonald. “You can see the explosion in practice, but to see it on the field is just like a ball of magic. That’s the fastest guy I’ve seen on a football field.”
What was just as significant, and will continue to be for the rest of the season, was how Harvin impacted the game without touching the ball. While Harvin making a big play is the most impactful thing he can do, the threat of Harvin making a big play is also a nice perk for Seattle’s offense.
When Doug Baldwin caught a 19-yard touchdown late in the first half, safety Andrew Sendejo was just a step late getting there to try and break up the pass. The reason? Harvin, who was in the slot on that play, drew Sendejo towards the middle of the field before the safety recognized the pass was heading to Baldwin. Earlier in the game, Baldwin caught a 44-yard pass down the sideline that was the result of him beating press coverage. But that play was immensely easier because safety Jamarca Sanford was watching Harvin run across the middle of the field before he realized that Baldwin was wide open. Ricardo Lockette also found space on 27-yard first-quarter catch when, once again, a safety was more worried about Harvin than another receiver running free behind him.
“The thing about him is he draws attention,” Wilson said. “It’s hard to stop him because he’s so fast, he’s so electric, he loves the game and he’s so physical. … To have him on our football team, it just elevates our offense.”
This was just the beginning for Harvin in Seattle, and his production should increase dramatically as the year goes on, but just getting back on the field and having any impact was very meaningful for Harvin. Not only did his 2012 season end prematurely, he then had an appendectomy later that year, and that procedure revealed a tumor on his appendix. A trade to Seattle brought the promise of a fresh start with a playoff contender, but then Harvin injured his hip and was going under the knife before he even had a chance to practice with his new team.
“I can’t even describe that play,” Harvin said of his first catch as a Seahawk. “Just for me to be able to be on the field again — a lot of people don’t know I had a lot of surgeries, I had two/three surgeries I went through. I had an appendectomy, I had a tumor that was taken out during the offseason. There was a lot built into this game, other than just my hip. Emotionally it was good to get out there and be with my teammates again.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.