RENTON – This time a year ago, Percy Harvin was pushing through an injury that ultimately required surgery and sidelined him for most of his first season in Seattle.
So as the Seahawks conducted their first organized team activity Tuesday, Harvin seemed more like an addition than a player Seattle is returning. And if one practice is any indication, he appears to be completely over the hip injury that forced him to miss all but one regular-season game in 2013.
"This is probably the best I've felt since before college," Percy Harvin said Tuesday after Seattle's OTA. (AP) | More photos
That's a good thing not only because of the money the Seahawks are paying Harvin – an average of nearly $11 million over the next five seasons – but because of the degree to which their offense will be counting on him in 2014.
It was different last season when Harvin was added to a wide receiver corps that was already sufficiently stocked. But Golden Tate is now gone, having left in free agency after leading Seattle in receiving in 2013. Sidney Rice is back but is no lock to make the team as his recovery from knee surgery is expected to keep him from practicing until training camp. And Seattle could be breaking in two rookies – certainly Paul Richardson and possibly Kevin Norwood – at a position that rarely sees significant first-year contributions.
So while Harvin was a luxury of sorts last season, he's now more of a necessity for Seattle's receiver corps.
That made his participation Tuesday especially significant.
"It's great to have Percy out here practicing with us," coach Pete Carroll said. "The days were so few in preparations for the games that he played in even (last season). To have him throughout all these weeks and he's working and he's fitting and he understands the chemistry and communication, he just has tremendous direction to go now. He looks fantastic."
Harvin missed 16 of Seattle's 19 games last year, first due to the hip injury and then a concussion he sustained in the divisional round. But while returning for the Super Bowl – and returning a kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown – helped ease the frustration that came with those injuries, it didn't erase it.
"I felt like I had a lot more to give," he said. "I don't feel like I made my mark on the season like I wanted to. I'm just glad to be back out here to get a full offseason to get going."
Tate's departure in free agency not only left a hole in Seattle's receiver corps but a vacancy at punt returner.
While it's far from settled, Carroll said free safety Earl Thomas would be the first option if the season were starting. That sounds good to Thomas, who said he's been lobbying to return punts for a while.
"This is perfect opportunity for me to score a touchdown," he said. "I'm an offensive guy at heart. That's why I don't try to go out of bounds when I catch interceptions."
Thomas had a 14.5-yard average on the four punts he returned at the University of Texas.
"My first time returning I almost scored," he said. "I just got tripped up by the punter."
Harvin, cornerback Richard Sherman and wide receiver Bryan Walters are the other possibilities Carroll mentioned.
Running back Marshawn Lynch was unsurprisingly absent Tuesday, the second straight year he has missed the start of Seattle's voluntary OTAs.
His absence pushes backups Robert Turbin and Christine Michael one spot up the depth chart. For Michael, last year's second-round pick, it means an opportunity to show the strides he's made since his rookie season, during which he was active for only four games and carried the ball a grand total of 18 times.
"He's just a million miles ahead of where he was in terms of understanding what we want scheme wise, pass-protection wise, route wise, and we know he's a natural runner," Carroll said. "He's got explosive talent and we just want to get him fit in.
"By the end of preseason he should be just a real comfortable part of this football team and we know what to expect of him, and he knows what to expect and he should really go with that. I'm hoping he would be a big factor."
• LB Malcolm Smith was not practicing as he's recovering from what Carroll described as a clean-up procedure on his right ankle. Smith is expected to be back in time for training camp.
• WR Sidney Rice is not expected to practice until training camp as he recovers from reconstructive knee surgery. "He's doing fine," Carroll said. "He won't be back until camp, but he's in terrific shape. He was jumping up on the boxes today, he's doing all kinds of stuff, so he's well ahead of where a guy should be at this time, so that means he'll definitely have a chance to be back full speed for camp."
• DT Jesse Williams was not practicing due to a laceration that was the result of a fall, Carroll said.
• CB Tharold Simon, who missed all of his rookie season in 2013 with foot injuries, is expected to be cleared to run this week.
Follow Brady Henderson on Twitter @BradyHenderson.