Field Gulls' adopted favorite son Arif Hasan already broke down, in vivid detail, what Seattle may end up doing with the multi-tool known as Percy Harvin this season, so there's not a whole lot I am going to try to add, but Harvin himself recently answered a question that had been on my mind: whether or not he'll be used at running back from time to time.
"I'll be moving around -- pretty much all around. There'll be a little bit of running back coming up. But right now, we're just trying to get the foundation set, just running the base plays, and we'll see where it goes from there."
'A little bit of running back coming up' is pretty vague but honestly it sounds about right, somehow. My guess is that they won't use him there frequently - when Darrell Bevell was calling the plays for Minnesota in 2009 and 2010, Harvin only 'rushed' the ball 33 times in 29 games. That number shot up after to 52 rushes in 2011 after Bevell left, so the thought of 'Harvin the running back' isn't necessarily linked to Bevell all that much. The question remains though, on just how much the Seahawks will want to use him in the backfield. They do, as we well know, have four, or even five capable running backs on their roster as it is.
The key to maximizing Harvin's toolset lies in matchups. As Arif mentioned to me on twitter recently - "one thing I forgot to add to Harvin article that I remembered after rewatching the early season games is that you [can] force nickel and dime [defenses] by huddling in an "02" or "01" package [ie, zero running-back personnel sets], motioning Harvin into backfield and running up the gut."
In layman's terms - force the defense to adjust to the personnel you have in the huddle. If Seattle runs onto the field with '02' or '01' personnel, that means you're seeing no backs, which, typically, means you're planning to pass the football. Defenses have to use deduction very frequently to try and get an edge - much like an MLB batter guessing which pitch he'll be receiving before the ball leaves the pitcher's hand.
When a defensive coordinator sees '02' personnel in the huddle - two tight ends and three wide receivers along with Russell Wilson and the offensive line, or '01' personnel - four receivers, a tight end and Wilson - the likely response is to send out a nickel or dime package, replacing a linebacker (or two) with a defensive back(s), and in some cases, replacing another defensive tackle with a defensive back. Nickel/Dime is meant to combat the pass, and is inherently weaker against the run. This is because linebackers are better at taking on and shedding blocks (and tackling) than the little defensive backs are, typically (except for with the world's littlest linebacker, Antoine Winfield). It's simple physics.
So - if Seattle goes into huddle with Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, and Percy Harvin, along with Zach Miller and Russell Wilson, a likely response from any defensive coordinator would be a nickel or dime package - four or five defensive backs match up with Seattle's four/five pass catchers. In some dime looks, teams swap out one of their defensive tackles, even. One thing the Seahawks could do in this situation would be, as Arif points out, is to run right at the defense's weakness up front - and Percy Harvin's versatility as a running back/wide receiver allows them to do that.
And it works the other way around as well - as Arif noted too, the Vikings 'have also lined him up in the backfield and motioned him out wide to reveal coverage, before motioning to slot." Again, it's all about matchups, and if you can ascertain what the defense is doing prior to snapping the football, you have a great advantage as the quarterback. Ask Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, two masters of the pre-snap phase.
Another way that Seattle could utilize Percy's versatility is in a hurry-up or no-huddle situation. I'll remind you that hurry-up and no-huddle are not necessarily the same thing: a no huddle strategy simply implies that you're not making substitutions on offense, and likewise the defense cannot substitute either. This ability to run with Harvin or pass with Harvin in the slot gives Seattle more multiplicity within their personnel groupings, meaning they can really dictate to the opposing defense what they want to do. If the opposing D is in a nickel or dime look, they'll run the football and pound it on the ground. If they're in a base look, that means Harvin is likely matched up on a safety or even better, a linebacker, and the Seahawks could look to exploit that matchup.
The point is - and Arif already explained this so really I'm just repeating it, because it's awesome - the point is, Percy Harvin is going to give Seattle's offense a whole new dimension, and it's likely that he'll make the guys around him better by facilitating one-on-one matchups elsewhere. Guys like Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin will see isolation playcalls, because teams will have to pick their poison on who to focus on. This is a note that Darrell Bevell was hitting on recently in an interview - that each week they'll likely have a focus on different guys, depending on opposing teams' weaknesses. One week it'll be Percy, another it will be Golden, and another it will be Doug or Sidney. Another it will be Zach Miller - as we saw against Washington and Atlanta in the Playoffs.