Nationals

Unhappy WR returns to Vikings

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Unhappy WR returns to Vikings

From Comcast SportsNet
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) -- The sun was bright, the breeze was blowing and smiles were abundant as the Minnesota Vikings wrapped up their offseason program. Percy Harvin was back on the field Thursday morning, laughing with teammates and participating fully in the last practice of minicamp. That frustration with the organization he described sternly but vaguely earlier in the week was not apparent by his demeanor. Harvin's request to be traded, followed by his absence Wednesday afternoon from the mandatory session, was shelved for a while even if it's unresolved. "It's a new day today," head coach Leslie Frazier said, ever eager to try to avoid talking about his star wide receiver's still-unexplained discontent. "The fact that he was engaged and working to help us win, that's where my focus is. Just glad that he was participating in what we're doing. You move forward." Harvin declined to be interviewed as he jogged to the locker room -- "talk later," he said -- but tweeted an hour later to say, "I'm really clueless on the crazy reports." Harvin went on to declare Thursday's practice "great" and told his fans he'd see them in Mankato, where the Vikings report to training camp July 26. He wasn't specific about his promised arrival, but he sure made that sound like he's not planning to hold out. "I just assume that he'll be here," quarterback Christian Ponder said. "It's not my job to handle it. The front office will handle it, and they're going to do a great job. We know that Percy is a heck of a player, and we like being around him, and he's been out here practicing like nothing's wrong, and that's what we like to see. He still cares about being here." Ponder said he and Harvin spoke about getting together in Florida over the next couple of weeks, joking to reporters he'll do whatever he can to keep Harvin happy, including dinner, a movie or bowling. "Everything seemed normal. This kind of came out of nowhere, so I'm not really sure what the issues are. But I'm sure they'll get worked out," Ponder said. Frazier said he spoke briefly with Harvin but again declined to explain exactly why the hard-nosed, multi-skilled, fourth-year player is unhappy. General manager Rick Spielman said Wednesday the Vikings have no interest in dealing Harvin, who has two seasons left on his rookie contract. Harvin said on Twitter Wednesday that his situation is not about money. But the way Spielman, Frazier and Harvin's teammates have spoken about addressing and resolving this made it sound like at least some of it is. Harvin is recovering from supposedly minor shoulder surgery, and Frazier also said the team kept him off limits from contact so he didn't fall and aggravate the joint. "He leaves going home feeling confident that things are moving in the right direction. We feel confident things are moving in the right direction," Frazier said. "So that was really good to see." Just what the "right direction" means is open to interpretation. "He wants the same thing that we want. We all want to bring a championship to Minnesota. He wants that in the worst way, and that's one of the most important things, that we all want the same thing," Frazier said. Frazier also said he expects "100 percent" participation from his team when training camp starts and that he still has a solid relationship with Harvin. "There will always be things you have to work though. I think that will always be the case with players and coaches," Frazier said. The rest of the receiver group is largely unsettled or at least unproven, which made Harvin's complaints this week more jarring. Michael Jenkins has a reliable track record as a complementary player, but he's coming off a season-ending knee injury. Greg Childs and Jarius Wright bring potential, but they're fourth-round draft picks. Jerome Simpson has shown a lot of ability since signing with the Vikings in April, but he'll be suspended for the first three games. This makes Ponder's second-year development that much more important. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's goal for him in these spring practices was a 75 percent completion rate on first and second downs, and Ponder said he thinks he surpassed that mark this week. He's up to 233 pounds, from 212 at the start of offseason workouts, so he plans to lose a few before training camp so he doesn't sacrifice mobility. "For me the biggest improvement I saw was picking up blitzes and learning how to do that and recognizing things a lot better," Ponder said. "I think the game's really slowed down ... for me."

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Washington Nationals second half preview

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Washington Nationals second half preview

The second half of the 2018 MLB season gets underway tonight, and the Nats find themselves on the outside looking in at the playoff picture right now

In order for them to get past the Braves, Phillies, Diamondbacks, Brewers, etc., a number of things will have to go right in D.C. over the next 65-ish games.

A few questions will be hanging over the franchise these next few months, so to help break down what to look for during the Nats’ second half, I enlisted some fellow NBC Sports Washington writers to help me out, roundtable-style.

Without further ado, here are some second-half predictions.

Contributors:

Ryan Wormeli - @RyanWarmly
Cam Ellis - @KingsleyEllis
Michaela Johnson - @mjohnson262
Tyler Byrum - @theTylerByrum

Most important player in the second half:

Ryan Wormeli: Stephen Strasburg.

Everyone knows Max Scherzer is going to dominate as the Nats’ ace, and everyone knows Bryce Harper will hit home runs. In fact, assuming health, everyone knows the team will be pretty good at most spots. Strasburg, however, is the one that can take the Nats, to quote former Maryland coach Randy Edsall, from “good to great.” If he’s elite as their number two starter, this team is making the playoffs. Book it.

Cam Ellis: Bryce Harper.

Michaela Johnson: Bryce Harper, in the sense that it’s critical he gets hot again. Hopefully, his Home Run Derby win sparks something.

Tyler Byrum: Gio Gonzalez. 

There are a couple of ways to look at this. Of course, Bryce Harper needs to be better and Stephen Strasburg has to come back fully healthy from the disabled list for them to even have a chance. Even if those two do that though, it probably will not be enough to make a climb in the division. 

Last year Gonzalez had easily the second-best season of his career. With a 15-9 record and a 2.96 ERA in 2017, Gonzalez could easily be a No. 2 pitcher on half of the teams in the major. This season his ERA is sitting at 3.72 and has only won six of the 19 games he started. More than just looking at his stats, his outings are short too, making it to the seventh inning only three times this year. Additionally, the two-time All-Star is on pace to strike out the fewest batters this season than in the past decade.

Max Scherzer will get the Nationals a win once a week, hopefully Strasburg will get it done too, but Gonzalez is the Wild Card.

Nationals X-factor:

Ryan: An X-factor is someone whose play can dramatically impact the team’s success. If they’re successful, the team wins. If they play poorly, the team suffers.

This can apply to a number of players on the Nats, but I’m going to go with Juan Soto. He’s already exceeded expectations all season long, and helped keep the team afloat. They probably wouldn’t be within shouting distance of the postseason without the young phenom.

If Soto maintains his abnormally strong play while the rest of the team gets it going, the ceiling on this team is higher than any in the National League besides maybe the Dodgers and Cubs. If not, then they can still be okay, but probably not good enough.

Cam: Stephen Strasburg.

Michaela: Daniel Murphy. Since returning from injury he’s been solid, batting .324 in July. Davey Martinez has good discretion when it comes to resting vs. playing guys coming off injury, and I foresee a strong comeback for Murphy.

Tyler: Bryce Harper.

This is Harper’s team and it always will be with him on the roster. Yes, that .214 batting average is not going to win him a pennant, but Harper is so much more to this team. The 2018 Home Run Derby champion has to bring the fire to the Nationals night-in and night-out, whether or not he is able to get hits on the board. 

Some people want to question his leadership ability (we’re not going to touch that topic), but he needs to inspire his guys in the clubhouse.

Show us the Harper that we saw at the derby, even with a poor batting average, and we’ll see a different team out on the field in the second half.

Will the Nationals make the playoffs?

Ryan: I’m actually very on the fence about this question. I’m going to say yes, but it’s like 51-49. I just am too impressed with the Braves and Phillies, and the latter especially seems keen on making an aggressive move at the trade deadline.

Cam: Yes, BUT it'll be the wild card game at Nats Park and extremely stressful.

Michaela: If I was making a call based on what we’ve seen in the first half, obviously not. But I have high expectations for the second half based on a Harper resurgence and Murph recovery, so I’m going to say yes.

Tyler: Yes. There is too much talent on this roster for them not to. With Strasburg coming back it will be more than just Scherzer dealing out there. The Philadelphia Phillies should cool down at some point too and it will be a two-headed race between the Nats and the Atlanta Braves for the division.

More likely scenario: Bryce Harper is traded at the deadline OR he signs a long term extension in D.C.

Ryan: I figure everyone will say he signs a long term extension, and I’m not going to swim against the current here. It’s highly, highly unlikely that he’s traded at the deadline, but given the national conversation surrounding his future in the nation’s capital, I thought it was at least worth asking.

Cam: Signs an extension this offseason.

Michaela: He signs an extension, based solely on this quote.

Tyler: Signs extension. There is no way the Nationals will trade the leader of the team and the guy that just won the Home Run Derby on his own field. Sure it is fun to debate but that is the last thing that this clubhouse needs at this moment. 

On Monday night he showed his power and just why he is worth the lucrative extension.

However, trading Harper would be a typical case of #DCSports.

Who leads the Nats in batting average in the second half?

Ryan: Daniel Murphy. If he was never hurt entering the season, he could very well have been the betting favorite to lead the team in average all season long. He’s far enough removed from the Disabled List at this point to feel comfortable taking a shot on his pure hitting talent.

Cam: Anthony Rendon

Michaela: Juan Soto

Tyler: Trea Turner. He is due for a turnaround and none of the pressure is on him. There might also be some extra juice after his All-Star team snubbing. 

Biggest/most important trade deadline acquisition

Ryan: Going to go out on a limb here and say the Nats in a bit of a panic move but one that’s completely defensible, do what it takes to pry JT Realmuto away from the woeful Marlins.

Cam: Another starting pitcher. It's Matt Harvey Time!

Michaela: *fingers crossed* Starting pitching.

Tyler: Manny Machado, Dodgers. This is a no-brainer. Once written off a decimated by injury, the Los Angeles Dodgers are back to being a World Series contender once again. Sitting at the top of the division, with no one in the National League pulling away, Machado will put the Dodgers back as the team to chance.

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Need to Know: The best cornerbacks the Redskins will face in 2018

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Need to Know: The best cornerbacks the Redskins will face in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, July 20, six days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The five best cornerbacks the Redskins will face in 2018

This week we’ll be looking at the best of what the Redskins will face during the 2018 season. Today the cornerbacks are up. They are roughly ranked by Pro Football Focus’ coverage metrics, although I did some juggling based on interception totals and other factors. Prior to this, we looked at the best teamsreceivers, running backspass rushers, and quarterbacks

1. Patrick Peterson, Cardinals—The athletic Peterson has been All-Pro three times and has been selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his seven years in the league. He hasn’t had a big interception total since he got seven in 2012, but that is mostly because quarterbacks only throw his way about once every ten snaps he is in coverage. 

2. Jalen Ramsey, Jaguars—I could easily have ranked Ramsey over Peterson. I went with Peterson because he’s been doing it for longer and he’s only 28. Ramsey has justified his No. 5 selection in the 2016 draft. His long arms and ball skills serve him well. He has the size to defend the bigger receivers and the athleticism to be effective against shifty and speedy receivers. 

3. A.J. Bouye, Jaguars—If Alex Smith tries to throw away from Ramsey he will encounter trouble on the other side. It’s been trendy to say that Bouye is underrated for so long he’s in danger of becoming overrated. But he’s not there yet. Bouye was one of four full-time (played at least 60% of snaps) cornerbacks who did not allow a touchdown pass last year and he had by far the most plays in coverage. 

4. Malcolm Butler, Titans—If the Brady-Belichick Patriots don’t win another Super Bowl, the coach’s decision to keep Butler on the bench as Nick Foles shredded the New England secondary will be marked as the end of that era. Maybe Butler isn’t good enough to have made a difference, but it would have been interesting to see. He’s with the Titans now and he will give Smith problems in December. 

5. Marshon Lattimore, Saints—Last year’s defensive rookie of the year plays an aggressive style both in press man coverage and when tackling receivers who have caught the ball. An ankle injury sent him out of the game against the Redskins early, perhaps one of the reasons why Kirk Cousins was able to light them up for 322 yards and three touchdowns. 

Best of the rest: Desmond Trufant, Falcons; Brent Grimes, Bucs; Logan Ryan, Titans;k Jaire Alexander (rookie), Packers

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 6
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 20
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 43

The Redskins last played a game 201 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 51 days. 

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