Harvin's health a mystery heading into SEC championship game
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's Percy Harvin might be the fastest decoy on the field in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
Harvin spent the last four days in and out of the training room, trying to get his sprained right ankle healthy enough to play against top-ranked Alabama on Saturday.
Florida coach Urban Meyer says his do-it-all receiver is "getting better and better," but Harvin's health remains a concern for the second-ranked Gators and a mystery for the Crimson Tide.
Will he play? If so, how effective will be? Will he be mostly a decoy? Is his status all a smoke screen to throw off Alabama?
"He's such a great player and such an asset to this team that not one player can come in and step in and completely have this offense going the way it was," fellow receiver David Nelson said. "It's going to take two or three of us to fill his position."
Even that might not be enough.
Harvin, a junior expected to jump to the NFL after this season, leads the Gators with 35 receptions for 595 yards and seven touchdowns. He also is second on the team in rushing, with 538 yards and nine scores. He has scored at least once in 14 consecutive games -- the longest streak in the nation -- and burned defenses while lining up at receiver, running back and even quarterback.
"He's a great player," Alabama cornerback Javier Arenas said. "He's a great playmaker. When you think of the Florida Gators, you think of Percy Harvin. He's kind of the first thing that comes to mind. He'll make a huge impact."
If he plays.
Meyer acknowledged that his staff was creating two game plans -- one with Harvin and one without. Meyer also hinted that Harvin's role could be a deceptive one.
"The biggest thing you notice is when you play him, when he's lined up somewhere, the whole defense kind of [shifts], and I don't blame them," Meyer said. "That's opened up some other things for us."
The Gators certainly have received plenty of contributions, making their offense much more diverse than the Tim Tebow & Harvin Show that everyone saw last season.
Chris Rainey leads the team in rushing with 654 yards and four touchdowns, and Jeff Demps, a freshman who holds the national high school record in the 100-meter dash, is close behind with 529 yards and six scores. There's also Tebow (507 yards, 12 TDs), Southern California transfer Emmanuel Moody (394 yards), senior Kestahn Moore and return specialist Brandon James.
"Whether he plays or not, they're going to be able to have somebody that's going to be able to be just as explosive as Percy Harvin," Tide linebacker Cory Reamer said. "He's a great athlete. If they don't have him, that's a tough loss but they'll have somebody that can replace him, I'm sure."
Florida, which has won eight consecutive games by at least 28 points, would much rather have Harvin in the huddle, especially since few players are as versatile as the 5-foot-11, 190-pound speedster. He handles direct snaps, takes option pitches the distance, catches passes in traffic, finds running lanes and often turns negative plays into big gains -- when he's healthy.
Harvin missed two games last season because of migraine headaches and sat out this year's season opener while recovering from offseason heel surgery. He also has missed practice time because of a hip pointer, tendinitis in his Achilles' tendon and tendinitis in his knee.
The Gators have done just fine without him. They scored 31 points after he injured his ankle Saturday at Florida State, totaled 110 points against South Carolina and Florida Atlantic last year and managed 56 points against Hawaii in the 2008 opener.
Coincidence? Meyer believes so.
"When you hand it to No. 1, the whole stadium holds its breath," he said.
Whether that happens at the Georgia Dome remains to be seen. Harvin was still wearing a boot Wednesday and limping around campus and the training room. Coaches expect him to try to go full speed Friday during walkthrough, see how his ankle reacts Saturday morning and then test it once more before the game.
Then they'll decide whether Harvin plays, sits or becomes a decoy.
"No matter how good you are -- it definitely helps that you're gifted -- but ultimately you play your best ball when you have a chance to get those reps throughout the week," receivers coach Billy Gonzales said. "So we'll just have to wait and see what he's able to do."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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