RENTON, Wash. -- Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll has referred to Percy Harvin's recovery from a hip injury suffered on the first day of training camp in phases. "Phase 1" was his surgery and rehab, "Phase 2" started a couple of weeks ago when Harvin was able to inch his way into some work on the practice field , and "Phase 3" officially started on Nov. 11, when the Seahawks activated Harvin from the Physically Unable to Perform list and he started a regimen of more focused practice. It's been a long wait for Carroll, whose team traded a first-round pick to the Minnesota Vikings for Harvin's services in March, then signed him to a six-year, $67 million contract with $25.5 million guaranteed.
Harvin was set to practice Wednesday, and "Phase 3" appears to be going along swimmingly.
"I didn't want to get too definitive with our phases and all that, but we're in Phase 3," Carroll said with a laugh on Wednesday. "But he'll practice today, which is good."
The ideal timeline all along for Harvin's return was the Week 11 game against his former team, which will come to CenturyLink field to face the 9-1 Seahawks. If the Seahawks can get Harvin in the game for a few snaps, there's the bye week after that, and then the New Orleans Saints come to town. Needless to say, Seattle will need all its weapons on hand against New Orleans. The question now for Harvin seems be less about when he'll return, and more about what he'll do in that first game. Given Harvin's ability to break explosive plays as a receiver, runner and returner, the issue is more complex with him than with most.
"We're just going to bring him back appropriately," Carroll said. "Whatever that is, and we'll figure that out, plays-wise and how much we go to him and all that. If you look at where he is, he's like guys coming out of training camp into the first preseason game. We'll be careful with it -- we need to see how he reacts and responds to the days. We'll determine it as we go. There's not a grand plan, because we don't have enough information yet."
Harvin hasn't spoken to the media this week, but he added hope to the picture with this little social media blast on Tuesday:
It's go time
— Percy Harvin (@Percy_Harvin) November 12, 2013
For Carroll, the idea of having Harvin on the field under his auspices goes back to 2005. Carroll was USC's head coach at the time, and Harvin was the nation's top receiver prospect. The Landstown High (Virginia Beach, Va.) star chose Florida over a host of suitors, including a USC program that put on a heavy push. It could be argued that the Seahawks selected Notre Dame's Golden Tate in the second round of the 2010 draft -- Carroll's first with the team -- because he was the closest thing in that draft to Harvin, who had gone in the first round to Minnesota the year before.
"I don't know that you can really appreciate how quick he is, and the explosiveness that he has, unless you see it every day, and you compare it to other guys," Carroll said when asked just what makes Harvin so special. "He's extraordinarily fast, and when you combine that with how aggressive he is, and how physical he is running with the ball in his hands, he separates from other guys. Just an amazingly quick, explosive athlete. We just got glimpses of that in OTAs, and we haven't seen it full-go yet. We'll come to appreciate it most when he starts playing, but he's really special in that regard."
Pretty high praise for a guy who's missed his teams' last 17 games, and has just 280 receptions for 3,302 yards and 20 touchdowns in his five-year career. Then again, when one looks back at some of the throws Harvin received from Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder in 2011 and 2012, one tends to wonder how many plays were left on the field that would have been picked up by a quarterback with Russell Wilson's deep arm and ability to make things happen after the designed play has broken down.
Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier, who has been trying to establish any kind of consistency with his 2-7 team, certainly knows what he'll be facing if Harvin is indeed on the field.
“He’s such an explosive player and the durability that he has, not so much the durability, but the ability to play multiple positions," Frazier said Wednesday. "You know we’d line him up, not only at wide receiver as an outside receiver, but we'd put him up in the slot. He’d line up in the backfield and was just as much in the backfield as much as he was lined up as a receiver. Once he touched the ball, he was a threat to score every time he touched the ball. So he provided a lot of positives for us.”
Without Harvin, and forced to deal with a trifecta of potential starting quarterbacks who would yield one above-average starting quarterback if they were Frankensteined together, Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave have leaned on a few stalwart concepts -- the consistent use of running back Adrian Peterson, dynamic returns from rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, and the tendency to hold one's breath whenever Ponder, Matt Cassel or Josh Freeman is throwing the football.
“We’ve had to find other ways to create the big play, other than Adrian, and we’re finding that as the year has gone on," Frazier said. "John Carlson stepped up and provided us some great plays at the tight end position on Thursday night in the absence of Kyle Rudolph. Being able to get Cordarrelle a little bit more involved in the offense, Jerome Simpson has given us quite a bit in the passing game, and Greg [Jennings] has helped us in the slot position. So we’re finding different ways to try to replace that production that Percy gave us.”
Carlson, the former Seahawk, put up career highs in last Thursday's 34-27 win over the Washington Redskins with seven catches for 98 yards. Simpson, who has caught 33 passes for 491 yards and no touchdowns this season, is currently dealing with the after-effects of his recent DWI arrest, and Jennings has been relatively invisible this season for a guy who signed a five-year, $45 million contract in March. Frazier told me that while Patterson has flashed explosive traits as a receiver, he's still learning as he goes, which leaves Minnesota with a host of unanswered questions at the primary position Harvin defined for them over a short period.
Still, it's Harvin who's the great unknown for this game. One team clearly misses him, and the other doesn't yet know what it really has with him. It will be up to Harvin to define that value sooner than later.