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The Game Plan: Intriguing Vikings rookie, what to watch in Week 1

NEW YORK -- Just what you need: more King. Well, you're getting it, like it or not. Welcome to the first edition of "The Game Plan,'' my new Friday column. This is the first of 22 weekly columns I'll write between now and Super Bowl Sunday.

The focus of the piece is going to be some aspect of the weekend's games that I find the most riveting. This week, it's going to be on Percy Harvin's impact on the Vikings entering their opener in Cleveland. I can't wait to see what he does this week, and in the 15 games to come. I'll be open to your suggestions for future columns, either in the box that accompanies this column, or on my Twitter page. I'll probably have a pretty good idea what I'm going to do each week following the Monday-nighter, but I'm always open to stealing good ideas from my readers. Send me your thoughts by the end of the day Tuesday, and who knows? Your idea may be what I explore that weekend.

In addition to six or eight paragraphs on what I can't wait to see, I'm going to give you other sections of the column:

Under Pressure. The player with the most to gain or lose in the weekend's games.

About Last Night. On the seven weeks when there's a Thursday night game, I'll give me my review of something that happened in the game that's significant for the future.

Ten Things I Think I'll Be Watching For This Weekend. Pretty self-explanatory.

With a nod to Hank Williams, I think we're ready for some football, particularly after a fun Thursday night opener whetted our appetites. So let's get it going.

***

My favorite on-field training camp memory this summer came in Mankato, Minn., during rookie all-purpose player Percy Harvin's second week of practice. Harvin, a 5-foot-11, 184-pound whippet, lined up in the shotgun as the Wildcat quarterback, and had his hands extended toward center John Sullivan, expecting the snap as he called out signals. Suddenly Harvin looked to his left, apparently expecting slotback Adrian Peterson to come in motion. When Peterson didn't move right away, Harvin whirled his left hand around and around, like a third-base coach waiving a runner home, and Peterson sprinted in motion. Harvin took the snap, then shoved a forward handoff to Peterson as he passed.

How interesting, this split-second moment in time. Here was a rookie still learning the way from the dorm to the practice field, and when he got out on the field, he was anything but a rookie. Harvin was comfortable enough in his own skin to say to the best back in football, in effect, Dude, you better not be slow coming in motion on my watch. Let's go!

When I brought this up to Harvin the other day, he seemed almost sheepish. He remembered it, all right, but said it happened because he and Peterson hadn't had much opportunity to work on the play yet. Harvin was doing a lot of different things in camp, and I think Sunday in Cleveland we'll see him as the game's most interesting weapon. I expect him to play four spots: slot receiver (maybe 15 snaps), wide receiver (15, and maybe more if Bernard Berrian's ouchy hamstring doesn't allow him to play much), Wildcat quarterback and punt returner (maybe five apiece). He might return kickoffs. He might line up as a running back. And if Berrian can't go, I bet Harvin starts alongside Sidney Rice.

"All the different things they're having me do isn't a problem at all,'' Harvin told me this week. "In fact, I love it. At Florida, I had to learn a lot of the running back stuff from the playbook and lots of receiver stuff. I know they're trying to work me hard so they can use me at a few places on the field, and that's good with me. With the first game so close, I'm really excited. This is what I've been waiting for, to play at this level.''

Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell told me what's impressed him so far about Harvin is his "innate feel'' for the game. "Sage [Rosenfels] called a play and didn't like what he saw in camp, and he looked at Percy and just gave him a look, and Percy knew, and he changed the route he ran. He just a smart kid.''

"Very smart,'' said Brett Favre. "That's the thing that's impressed me so far. He picks things up so fast.''

Favre told Harvin, who is 18-and-a-half years younger than his quarterback, that he was young enough to be his son. In fact, Favre's daughter Brittany, a college junior, is 37 weeks younger than Harvin.

The combo platter of Favre to Harvin could be one of the most interesting in recent NFL history. Harvin had legitimate 4.3-second 40-speed and the ability to get behind almost every corner in the league. Favre's surgically repaired right arm has the ability -- at least now, when he's feeling well -- to hit him 50 yards downfield. In their one extended playing sequence together at Houston 11 days ago, Favre spied Harvin running a corner route into the end zone. Favre laid the ball up almost perfectly for him. Only problem was, when Harvin had beaten his man, he looked back for the ball and lost it in the lights. He had a step and a half on the Texan corner, and the ball glanced off his fingertips.

"I don't think that's going to happen again,'' Harvin said. Let the Browns be warned.

QB Carson Palmer, Cincinnati. If HBO's Hard Knocks did nothing else, it may have put an extra burden on Cincinnati because it showed the Bengals as one of the dark-horse teams with a legitimate shot to climb the AFC ladder, but only if Palmer produces as he did before hurting his elbow last year. In 2005 through '07, Palmer averaged 4,001 yards and 29 touchdowns while starting every game. Last year, Bengals quarterbacks threw for 2,677 yards with 11 touchdowns. Palmer said Thursday the sprained ankle that caused him to miss the preseason is 100 percent. It better be, to handle the heavy weight on his shoulders this week, and this season.

I'll forever wonder why Tennessee defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil called the dogs off late in the fourth quarter, with Pittsburgh driving to win. After Jevon Kearse demolished Ben Roethlisberger and left him reeling at the Tennessee 33 with six minutes left, the Steelers had a third-and-12 and were on the edge of field-goal range. One more strong rush, and the Titans could preserve a 10-7 lead and beat the Super Bowl champs. But Cecil called for a three-man rush, and Roethlisberger had enough time to throw for a 15-yard gain. A tie game soon followed, then a Steelers OT win. I can hear Tennessee fans everywhere saying this morning: "Damn pree-vent defense. All it did was prevent us from winning.''

1. Kyle Orton's arm. Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said Thursday that Orton's "ability to throw the ball doesn't seem to be hampered too much.'' Good thing. Twelve days after mangling the index finger on his throwing hand, Orton seems close to whole for Sunday's opener in Cincinnati.

2. Antonio Bryant's leg. The $9 million wideout (yes, Tampa Bay actually is paying this inconsistent receiver that much on a one-year deal) won't be right after missing all four preseason games and most summer practices following minor knee surgery. It doesn't help that Byron Leftwich's other target, Michael Clayton, has a sore hammy. Dallas is catching Tampa Bay at the right time.

3. Cris Collinsworth's voice. No pressure on you in the NBC Sunday Night booth, big boy. But John Madden will be micro-dissecting every word you utter from the cathedral he always loved best, Lambeau Field, Sunday night. By the way, a few of us might actually miss you in our Sunday afternoon NBC batcave at Rockefeller Center, Cris. Whom am I going to teach football to now?

4. Jon Gruden's moxie. Speaking of announcers under the microscope, Gruden joins the Monday night crew in what's likely the start of a one-and-done season. I've liked what I've heard in Gruden so far. He's had the stones to say Houston would finish below .500, and that Carolina and Green Bay wouldn't win more than eight games.

5. Jason Taylor playing over the tight end as an outside linebacker. Taylor, a career defensive end, has wowed the Dolphins this summer as a standup linebacker, and he'll have some collisions Sunday with Tony Gonzalez of the Falcons. Speaking of Gonzalez .

6. Matt Ryan having a new toy. Against Miami's excellent pass-rush, look for Ryan to go to Gonzalez early and often. "I've loved watching Tony this summer as a receiver, obviously,'' said GM Thomas Dimitroff of the Falcons. "But his ability to wall off and seal a block has been an eye-opener. He's a high-percentage option for our offense, and a better blocker than I thought.'' A healthy Gonzalez will catch 90 balls in Atlanta.

7. Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and LeRon McClain battling for the ball in Baltimore. Rice has made McGahee treat the off-season seriously for the first time in his career. Now we'll see who Cam Cameron trusts more to carry his run game.

8. Richard Seymour. Seymour has made $30 million over the past three years, so missing his week's paycheck of $216,764.71 won't kill him. I keep hearing he's devastated by the trade to Oakland and miserable about the prospect of playing there this year. I hear he'd report to Oakland, no questions asked, if the Raiders agreed not to put a franchise tag on him at the end of this year, but the Raiders didn't deal a first-round pick to New England to rent Richard Seymour for one season. Seymour is likely to report in the next few days because he's going to be one of the stars of unrestricted free-agency after this season and can't get to the market without playing for the Raiders this year. And I don't see him sitting if it means he'll just have to play for the Raiders next year. Remember, a player who get the franchise tag put on him can still move. He'd just have to move with compensation. It's clearly not what Seymour would have wanted, but it'd be worse for him to not report.

9. The youth movement in Jacksonville kicking off. Never in franchise history (or, probably in many other teams' histories) has a team started freshmen at both tackles. But the Jags will use Eugene Monroe at left tackle and Eben Britton at right Sunday at Indy. I'm sure Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis will make them feel right at home.

10. Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith beginning to make peace -- the football world hopes. Goodell and Smith have traded barbs (that's putting it nicely) in the media and behind the scenes since Smith took over for Gene Upshaw. They were together in Pittsburgh last night. No big deal about your relationship, guys. Just the future of football at stake.

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