NFC North tour: Versatile Harvin

Percy Harvin (Tom Dahlin/Viking Update)

In our weekly tour of the Packers' division rivals, the Vikings' top rookie runs, catches, returns; the Bears' receivers are working on fastballs; the Lions are envious of the winning traditions of the Red Wings, Pistons and Tigers.

Wide receiver Percy Harvin was scheduled to make his first appearance in a Vikings uniform earlier this month when Minnesota held a rookie minicamp. It didn't happen. The team's first-round pick ended up in the hospital after becoming ill during a layover at the Atlanta airport.

The versatile playmaker from Florida finally did get on the field at Winter Park last week when the Vikings began organized team activities. His new teammates were glad to see him in action.

"Everybody knows he's a very explosive player," quarterback Tarvaris Jackson said. "I know the guys, we're going to love having him out here. Like a new toy, (we) just want to try him out and get him the ball as much as possible."

Harvin was used at wide receiver and running back in college and should give the Vikings' offense another weapon to keep defenses guessing. This is never a bad thing when opponents have to focus on stopping Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson.

The Vikings are having Harvin line up at a variety of positions during the OTAs and that will continue this weekend when the entire team is expected to assemble for a three-day mandatory minicamp.

"There's no better experience than what I'm going through right now," Harvin said. "I'm glad to get the combine and all the stuff over with and finally lace it back up and get on the football field. It's a wonderful feeling."

In addition to playing a key role on offense, Harvin also is going to get a chance to return punts and kicks. That's an area the Vikings are looking to upgrade and Harvin's speed potentially makes him a big-time threat.

"I'm just trying to come in and be a contributor, whether that's catching 100 passes or whatever it is, special teams," he said. "I just want to contribute to the team and be on the field and help any way I can."

Bears: Getting ready for a fastball

Bears wide receivers and tight ends have all mentioned that Jay Cutler's fastball has a lot more zip on it than what they're accustomed to, but none of them believe it will be a difficult adjustment.

They might, however, spend more time catching "passes" out of the Jugs machine to prepare them for Cutler's bullets.

"I think they'll get out here and get in on it, no question about it," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said, "and they'll turn it up a couple notches, too, if they're smart."

Turner finally has a franchise quarterback directing his West Coast offense. With that comes more pressure to design a high-powered attack, but that's OK with Turner.

"I don't know if there is (more pressure), but if there is I'll take it," Turner said. "I'll take a player like this anytime. I've been around some really good quarterbacks, and the last couple we've had I think were really good players, but I've never been around an arm like this."

But just because the Bears have a quarterback capable of launching long-range missiles with precision doesn't mean they won't continue to, as coach Lovie Smith is fond of saying, "get off the bus running the ball."

Even Cutler realizes that.

"We're going to run the ball," he said. "I think I've learned the hard way you have to run the ball, and you have to stop the run to get anywhere in this league and to make the playoffs and make a push for the Super Bowl. So that's not going to change.

"Especially here in December, with the wind and the weather, you're going to have to be able to grind out those four- and five-yard runs and get yourself into manageable positions. We're going to do that, but with the offensive weapons we've got, and with Ron calling them, I think we're going to have some fun out there too."

When tight end Greg Olsen was asked about his spectacular one-handed catch during the Bears' first OTA practice, all he could do was criticize himself for dropping a fastball from Jay Cutler earlier in the day.

"There is really no excuse," Olsen said. "Once you get adjusted, it's really all the same pretty much. You just have to get your eyes around that much faster and just expect it."

After an impressive rookie season in which he caught 39 passes for 391 yards, Olsen was second on the Bears last season with 54 catches and 574 receiving yards. He led the team with five TD catches. The 6-5, 255-pounder was anticipating another increase in production this season even before the Bears acquired Cutler.

"I was poised to have a good season in the first place," Olsen said, "but now with the addition of him, I know he feels comfortable with tight ends and utilizing them. I'm expecting to do good things and have a good year."

Lions: Envious of winning traditions

When Lions coach Jim Schwartz attended a Red Wings playoff game recently, something struck him as he sat in the upper reaches of Joe Louis Arena. At about eye level were the Wings' 11 Stanley Cup banners.

"To see all those banners and know the consistency that you have to play with to do that year in and year out, that's what we all aspire to," Schwartz said. "You don't aspire to seeing one lonely banner hanging up and then a lot of flags and stuff like that."

Well, one lonely banner would be a start for the Lions. They have never appeared in the Super Bowl. They have won four NFL titles, but only one playoff game since the 1957 championship.

The Lions, coming off the first 0-16 season in NFL history, are the only losers in Detroit sports. Every other pro team has won or played for a championship in recent history (and Michigan State just made the NCAA men's basketball title game at the Lions' home, Ford Field).

The Tigers went to the World Series in 2006.

The Pistons' streak of six straight Eastern Conference finals just snapped. They won the NBA title in 2004 and went back to the Finals in 2005.

Then there are the Wings. They have won more NHL championships than any other American franchise — four since 1997. They will win yet another if they beat the Penguins in this year's Stanley Cup finals.

"I think the thing you take most away is that consistency of high standard of excellence," Schwartz said. "You can't help but be impressed."

The Wings like to call Detroit "Hockeytown." But as much as Detroiters have a passion for hockey, they might have an even greater passion for football. If the Lions ever win the Super Bowl, after all their years of futility, the city would explode in celebration.

Schwartz heard all about it at the Wings game. He was not anonymous.

"I thought I'd dress in jeans and a T-shirt and if I didn't wear my Lions pullover that I'd be OK, but obviously not," said Schwartz, who bought a Wings T-shirt. "But that's cool. ... People are very enthusiastic. You can't help but be this time of year. It's like, 'Coach, we're behind you, we love you, whatever.' I say, 'Look, make sure you're saying that six months from now.'"


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.

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