Percy Harvin texted Leslie Frazier after he arrived in town on Memorial Day, seeking information about his appointment with the Vikings’ medical staff the following morning.
The Vikings’ coach fired back a reply.
“Is this the real Percy Harvin?”
Yes, Harvin made good on his promise to return to Winter Park for the start of organized team activities this week. Though sidelined because of a shoulder injury, Harvin recognized the significance of making an appearance at the voluntary (wink, wink) workouts and even helped spread the word to teammates.
They apparently got the message — if a 3-13 embarrassment last season didn’t already do that.
All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen was the only player who chose not to attend the first session of workouts. A few players sat out because of injuries and linebacker Chad Greenway tended to a family matter. Otherwise, everyone came ready to work, a positive development for a team attempting to move forward after a historically bad season.
“For those guys to show up in a voluntary situation — especially when you’re considering in years past this is something they haven’t been a part of or sporadically been a part of — it speaks volumes to their belief in trying to get things turned around,” Frazier said.
To be clear here, the Vikings won’t win any games in May or June. They’re not even wearing pads and established players take few reps. The playbook installation and film study serve as important building blocks for later on, but OTA attendance establishes a tone and perception as much as anything.
The Vikings tied a franchise record for losses last season. Imagine if a group of veterans decided to skip the first team gathering in the wake of that
13-loss campaign, even if the thing is entirely optional.
“We’re just going to grind it out all the way up until the season and hopefully get a better result than last year,” Harvin said.
In recent years, the Vikings treated OTAs as if they stood for Occasionally Train Apart. On-field workouts typically consisted of rookies, youngsters and select veterans. In 2010, Tyrell Johnson and Madieu Williams were the only starters from the previous season who took part in the first OTA session.
Harvin prefers to train in Florida. Adrian Peterson skipped a mandatory minicamp a few years ago to attend a parade in his honor in his hometown. Antoine Winfield usually conducts his workouts in Houston, estimating that he participated in “one or two” OTA practices the past few years.
“It’s Year 14 for me,” Winfield said. “I need the work, too.”
He understands his presence is beneficial beyond just knocking off some rust. The Vikings are picking up the pieces and trying to create a new identity with a bunch of young, unproven players who need guidance and leadership. This roster has undergone a remarkable makeover this offseason. So many fresh faces populate the locker room that name tags should be required upon entry.
“There’s so many new faces in there, it’s amazing,” veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams said.
Winfield joked that he didn’t know too many names yet, but that’s OK. The point is, they know his.
At a rookie minicamp last month, wide receiver Jarius Wright sounded like a kid on Christmas Eve as he recalled seeing Harvin on the field before their college teams played in 2008.
“I’m sitting over here thinking, ‘Wow, that’s Percy Harvin,’ and I’m shell-shocked,” Wright said.
Think it was important to Wright that Harvin showed up this week?
Harvin and Peterson caused a lot of gawking Wednesday as they raced up a hill several times during rehab drills. Everyone in attendance — players, coaches, media, support staff — took notice. Eventually, one got the sense their show accomplished a desired effect.
The two stars didn’t have to be there, and they certainly didn’t have to race up that hill, but their competitive juices started flowing and off they went.
A footrace in OTAs doesn’t guarantee the Vikings will have a successful season, of course, but it sent an underlying message. Now everyone else needs to follow their lead.