Redskins

Vikings making creative, consistent use of Harvin

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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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10 Questions in 10 days: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?

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10 Questions in 10 days: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?

With Redskins Training Camp set to begin July 26th, JP Finlay takes a look at 10 of the most pressing questions for the Burgundy and Gold. 

No. 10: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart 

No. 9: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?

No. 8: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?

The Redskins had to improve the defensive line this offseason. The defense ranked dead last against the run in 2017, and without improvement up front defensively, the playoffs would again be out of reach in 2018. 

And for the second straight season, Washington tried. 

The team selected Daron Payne out of Alabama with their first-round pick and Tim Settle out of Virginia Tech in the fifth round. The front office also waived under-performing Terrell McClain in the offseason and moved on from veteran A.J. Francis.

Perhaps most important, the team should have 2017 first-rounder Jonathan Allen completely healthy this fall. He and Matt Ioannidis looked like a strong front in 2017 before a foot injury shut down Allen for the year in Week 5. Add in Anthony Lanier, who flashed big-time sack potential, and the Redskins have a strong, young nucleus.  

But how does it all work?

In the base 3-4 scheme, Payne might have the strength to play nose tackle. Settle definitely has the size for the nose. Both are rookies, however, and will need to learn a lot, and fast, to start Week 1. Veteran Stacy McGee, coming off groin surgery, might be able to hold off the rookies if he is fully healthy. When a nose is on the field, expect Allen and Ioannidis to line up at the defensive tackle spots. If he's not playing nose, Payne will rotate in at tackle as well. Another veteran, Ziggy Hood, will provide depth at tackle, if he makes the team. 

In the nickel package, which the team deploys more than half of their snaps, expect to see a healthy rotation of Allen, Payne, Ioannidis and Lanier. Keeping those players fresh should allow interior pocket pressure, and that could be great news for Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith

With Payne and Allen the headliners, and Ioannidis and Lanier valuable, and Settle capable at the nose, the Redskins have five D-line roster spots about locked down. 

Last year, the team kept six defensive linemen coming out of camp. If McGee is healthy, that spot will be his. If he's not, Hood likely hangs on. It's also possible the team keeps seven D-linemen, particularly as they monitor McGee's groin injury. 

The good news is last year, due to injuries and the talent on the roster, a number of players were forced into spots they didn't truly belong. Hood doesn't have the true size to play nose, but he was forced into the position. Lanier is best served as an interior pass rusher, but was forced to be a run stuffer. 

With more investments on the line, and better luck in the training room, the 2018 Redskins D-line should have more people playing where they belong. And that could go a long way. 

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

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

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, July 18, eight days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The five best running backs 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 running backs are up. They are roughly ranked 2017 rushing yards, although I did some juggling based on offseason moves and other factors. Prior to this, we looked at the best teamsreceivers, and quarterbacks

Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys—He actually finished 10thin the league in rushing yards behind two backs who will face the Redskins. Elliott gets boosted up the list because he was suspended for six games last year. He averaged 98 yards per game played, and had he been able to play in 16 games, he would have led the league in rushing yards with over 300 yards to spare. In three games against the Redskins, he has averaged 110 yards per game and he has five touchdowns. The Redskins’ revamped rushing defense will be tested twice.

Mark Ingram, Saints—He will be coming off of a four-game suspension for Redskins vs. Saints in Week 5. Will he be rested or rusty? If he’s in any kind of form, the Redskins defense will have to be on its game. Last year against Washington in the Superdome, Ingram rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries. 

Leonard Fournette, Jaguars—The rookie did surpass the thousand-yard mark, posting 1,040. Some pointed out that it wasn’t a consistent effort as he gained 310 yards, almost 30 percent of his total, in two back-to-back games in Weeks 5 and 6. That’s fine but he still is a difficult opponent with his combination of size and speed. I look for him to have a big breakout this year. 

Dion Lewis/Derrick Henry, Titans—Lewis averaged 5.0 yards per carry with the Patriots last year and Henry gained 744 yards while sharing time with the now-retired DeMarco Murray. Lewis will play a lot of third downs and will spell Henry sometimes early in games. That will leave the 6-3, 247-pound Henry fresh to grind up the clock if the Titans have a late lead. 

Jay Ajayi, Eagles—Nobody has quite figured out why the Dolphins dealt him to the Eagles in midseason, but Philly was more than happy to add him to the offense. Ajayi became a workhorse in the postseason with 42 rushing attempts and six receptions in three games. 

I do need to mention Giants rookie Saquan Barkley here. I have to think that the second overall pick of the draft will rank somewhere on this list, but without seeing him in an NFL uniform yet it’s hard to rank him. He will be dangerous, no doubt. 

David Johnson of the Cardinals also will be tough to handle. After he missed all of last year with a hand injury it's difficult to rank him, too. If he is in his 2016 form in Week 1 the Redskins will face a tough task. 

Best of the rest: Lamar Miller, Texans, Alvin Kamara, Saints, Ronald Jones, Bucs

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 

Former Redskins offensive tackle Geroge Starke, one of the original Hogs, was born on this date in 1948.

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 8
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 22
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 45

The Redskins last played a game 199 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 53 days. 

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