A “speed cut” doesn't sound possible at first. Wide receivers must turn their route at full speed.
They can’t chop their feet, can’t plant and push off.
From the moment Percy Harvin reunited with position coach Sanjay Lal in Buffalo, he’s been trying to perfect this.
“He was choppy with it. Now, there’s no chop,” Lal said. “He snaps out of it like the best I’ve seen.”
It’s all part of Harvin’s goal of being a complete wide receiver. In Buffalo, as he explained in August, he feels liberated. Days of fighting teammates are behind him. He’s also out to prove he’s more than a weapon in the slot or a speedster used on jet sweeps — he envisions playing everywhere. So Week 1 was a promising start with Harvin burning Darius Butler for a 51-yard touchdown on a go route and finishing with five catches for 79 yards.
“I’m on a tear,” Harvin said. “That’s what I’ve been saying the last couple years. And I finally found a coach and an organization who believes in me where I’m happy to wake up every morning with a smile on my face driving into work. I have great teammates. So I come in each day having fun with these guys, just working on my craft.”
He spent months with Lal perfecting the little things. Like the speed cut.
Replay Harvin's first reception in Buffalo — a six-yarder on the team’s first drive. This was just as much of a sign of how far he’s come as the touchdown. Harvin motioned from the backfield to the slot and made the rounded cut without gearing down. Green Bay’s Randall Cobb and Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown have mastered this harder-than-it-looks maneuver.
Speed cuts can be made on most routes, Lal notes. In or out. The reason they are so dangerous is that the cornerback cannot tell which way you're turning at the top of a route. It's part mind game.
Harvin says the key is sinking the hips. Soon, maybe he's speed-cutting at 10, 15, 20 yards downfield on Sundays.
“You cut but you don’t show the DB you’re cutting,” Lal said. “So there’s some technique to it, in terms of where your feet get placed, how you snap your chin back, keep your arms moving but he was diligent on that route. He spent a lot of time and I give him all the credit in the world. He’s one of the best on our team running that route.”
No. 1 wideout Sammy Watkins drew the heavy attention against the Colts. Top corner Vontae Davis shadowed him, often with a safety over the top, and Watkins had zero receptions. If this becomes the norm, Harvin is bound to see more one-on-one coverage.
Speed was never an issue — Harvin is one of the fastest players in the NFL.
But team to team to team, he hasn’t perfected his craft quite like he is now with Lal. Back at Florida, after all, Harvin played running back, too. He had more carries (194) than receptions (133) in three seasons.
“I don’t want to say he’s there yet, nor will he,” Lal said. “There’s still more to go. He just does everything you ask. He wants it, No. 1, that’s the first key. He takes coaching. He watches film. He works on his technique. If a route’s not just right, he’ll stay after and work on it or he’ll spend extra time in the film room getting his footwork just right. He’s like the model student.
“And the biggest thing I can say is that he’s self-motivated. He wants to be a solid outside receiver.”
Lal isn't sure how New England will react to Harvin's smashing debut. If he's singled up again? “We’ll take it every time,” Lal said.
An omnipresent weapon at his peak in Minnesota, the 5-foot-11, 184-pound Harvin is still initiating the offense in motion before the snap. But he’s also getting a chance to play outside and points to the value of repetition. For so long, he has excelled vs. man coverage. With more snaps, Harvin is figuring out how to get open vs. zone, rolling safeties, everything.
Said Harvin, “By the end of the season, I should be hitting on all cylinders.”
And in this offense, Harvin expects different headliners every week. The Bills are practicing to a point where receivers better make the catch, he said, because you don’t know if the ball will come back.
The Bills have been cautious with Harvin, resting him on Wednesdays. When he is on the field, Lal is pushing him.
“These are some of the greatest athletes in the world,” Lal said. “There’s no reason we can’t try to perfect everything. We have a saying in our room of ‘Don’t let good be the enemy of great.’ Percy or anyone else, we’ll say, ‘That’s good. Let’s make it great.’”
In Harvin, Lal still sees a hunger.
Said the coach, "He’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve met.”