Vikings making creative, consistent use of Harvin


Vikings making creative, consistent use of Harvin

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) Percy Harvin's versatility, athleticism and toughness have made defending him difficult for Minnesota's opponents.

Figuring out the most effective way to use - and protect - him has been a challenge for the Vikings, too. The experiment was so uneven last year - while the team finished 3-13 - that Harvin demanded better from the coaching staff, seeking clarity on his role.

For the first time this week, the fourth-year do-it-all wide receiver elaborated a little on why he was so frustrated during the offseason. His out-of-nowhere rant on the first day of minicamp about unspecified issues with the organization that made him unhappy was followed by a request for a trade.

The situation simmered down over the next month, though, and Harvin never spoke another word of discontent. He showed up in prime shape at the start of training camp and got in a groove he's stayed in through the first quarter of the season. Harvin leads the NFL with 698 combined net yards, including kickoff returning, rushing and receiving.

``It was just the identity of our offense,'' Harvin said, when asked again about the nature of his complaint with the team. ``Just not only me, just guys knowing exactly what the coaches are asking of them on a week-to-week basis. Not playing one position one week, and come in and not totally having a grasp on what they're asking for the next week.''

Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is the man in charge of sorting all this out. Harvin went out of his way to compliment Musgrave for his work in creating packages of formations and plays to feature Harvin, tight end Kyle Rudolph and wide receiver Jerome Simpson as the key complements to the Adrian Peterson-centered system.

``Everybody, I think, knows their role, knows what the coaches expect them to do. Now you can just sit back and try to do it at the highest level you can,'' said Harvin, who is third in the league with 30 catches.

Whatever conflict existed between Harvin and Musgrave, then, has vanished amid the team's 3-1 start.

``The communication has been really, really good both during the season, training camp and offseason, so we want to keep it going if we can,'' Musgrave said.

The Vikings used Harvin a lot as a tailback last year to keep Peterson from being overexposed. He played his usual spot in the slot, catching balls across the middle, screen passes to the sides and wherever else he could get open, the one reliable receiver quarterback Christian Ponder had. But because of his punishing running style and his history of migraine headaches, the Vikings kept a strict lid on the number of snaps he was on the field. Seeing Harvin on the sideline for a key third-down play inside the 20-yard line was not unusual, and despite his take-it-all-the-way ability as a kickoff returner his opportunities there were limited too.

This year, though, has been different. Harvin played 76 percent of the offensive snaps in last week's win at Detroit, and he was deep for all three kickoffs by the Lions. The first one he ran back 105 yards for a touchdown to start the game.

Coach Leslie Frazier recalled conversations with other coaches around the league during Senior Bowl practices last January that reminding him how tough defending Harvin can be. So he made a focus of maximizing that with Musgrave.

``We made a point to keep him on the field and use him in a variety of ways. To Percy's credit, he was excited about that and he's embraced that role,'' Frazier said, adding: ``We move him around to try to make it hard on defenses to find where he is.''

With the Lions putting an extra defender on or near him on almost every route he ran, Harvin was held to three receptions for 22 yards. But that helped open more room for Peterson, who posted his first 100-yard game of the season.

``They know that we're trying to get the ball to Percy and they're going to try to take those gimmicky plays away and that's fine,'' Ponder said. ``We'll find ways to get him the ball other ways. ... We're brighter on this side of the ball anyway.''

Harvin makes it easier to look smart.

``I feel like I'm a game-changer. Every time I get the ball in my hands I try to make a play,'' he said.

NOTES: LB Erin Henderson finished a full practice for the first time since his concussion in the Sept. 16 game at Indianapolis. Frazier said he's ``optimistic'' about Henderson playing this Sunday against Tennessee. But Jasper Brinkley will remain in Henderson's previous role in the middle of the nickel defense. Marvin Mitchell, who replaced Henderson at the weak side spot in the base scheme, strained his calf during special teams drills and was sent for an MRI exam. ... DE Jared Allen was held out of practice again to rest his groin, but Frazier said he doesn't expect Allen to miss the game. ... Ponder has a minor injury to his right knee, but the Vikings don't expect it to be a problem. ... Harvin was named the NFC's Special Teams Player of the Month for September, the first time in Vikings history a returner has won the award. Punter Chris Kluwe took it in September 2005.


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Redskins make a D-line contract change, gain roster flexibility

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Redskins make a D-line contract change, gain roster flexibility

One head-scratcher from over the weekend was the Redskins’ apparent decision to hold on to defensive end Terrell McClain despite the fact that his 2018 base salary of $3.25 million would become fully guaranteed as of 4 p.m. on Sunday.

McClain missed four games with a toe injury last year and when he was playing he was not one of the top performers on the line. Perhaps he will improve in his second year in the defense but his performance certainly didn’t warrant a fully guaranteed salary.

Sunday came and went, and McClain was still on the roster. However, there was a change regarding the eight-year veteran. According to John Keim of ESPN, the Redskins and the player agreed to remove the full guarantee of the 2018 salary and change it to an injury-only guarantee.


The change will help alleviate what could be a numbers crunch down the road. The Redskins normally carry six defensive linemen. They have four keepers in Jonathan Allen, Matt Ioannidis, Stacy McGee, and Anthony Lanier. They have been trying to sign a free agent D-lineman like Johnathan Hankins and if they fail to do that they are likely to take one early in the draft. That would mean that five of the roster spots are spoken for.

If McClain had the guaranteed salary that might lock him into that sixth spot, leaving Ziggy Hood, a favorite of the coaching staff, on the outside looking in. The removal of the full salary guarantee levels the playing field between McClain, Hood and another possible free agent or draft pick when it comes to competing for that last roster spot.

If McClain loses out in the battle for a roster spot in training camp releasing him would save about $3.4 million in 2018 cap space. However, there would be a dead cap charge of $2.5 million in 2019. If his salary had remained fully guaranteed his departure would have caused a net cap charge of about $2 million.


Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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Game 73 Capitals vs. Stars Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread


Game 73 Capitals vs. Stars Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Dallas Stars

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Stars will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Stars game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.


The Capitals (41-24-7) take on the Stars (38-27-8) Tuesday, March 20 at 7:00 p.m. ET at Capital One Arena.


The Capitals-Stars game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 6:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 6:30 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 10:00 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 11:00 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
6:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:00 p.m. — Capitals vs. Stars
9:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime
11:00 p.m. — Caps in 30


Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Islanders game:

Alex Ovechkin -  Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Andre Burakovsky - Lars Eller - T.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana - Travis Boyd - Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Christian Djoos - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny - Jakub Jerabek

Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup

Scratches: Evgeny Kuznetsov (upper body injury), Alex Chiasson, Brooks Orpik (lower body injury)


The Capitals-Flyers game, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.


Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.