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."

Bears Grades: Offense ignites to end 1st half, puts up season-high points vs. Niners

Bears Grades: Offense ignites to end 1st half, puts up season-high points vs. Niners

With less than 2 minutes to play in the first half the Bears had gained a total of 45 yards, and had zero pass completions (2 attempts) and zero points . By the end of the half they had 115 yards, Matt Barkley had completed 4 of his last 6 passes and the Bears adjourned for halftime with a 7-6 lead.

For the second straight week Barkley engineered a comeback, this time for a win, and running a two-minute offense that, curiously perhaps for an inexperienced quarterback, seems to suit Barkley even more than the offense run a normal speed. More than one player said that 70-yard drive to finish the first half was a tipping point, on all sides of the football.

The turning point “was that two-minute right before the half,” said right tackle Bobby Massie. “Everybody just executed, did what we needed to do and drove right down the field. Then we come out after the half and drove right down again. It was good.”

More than just good for the offense. “I think that really spurred both sides of the ball to be motivated to finish the game strong,” said Barkley, who got the Bears into the end zone twice in last Sunday’s Tennessee game, and nearly a third, within the final 10 minutes, running 35 plays over the span of those minutes.”

This time the result was the highest point total (26) this season and scores on four out of five possessions beginning with that hurry-up score to end the half.

Quarterback: A-

Once again Barkley was beset by dropped passes, although nowhere near the avalanche of them that defeated him against the Tennessee Titans. Barkley shook off the conditions and poor start to complete 4 of 6 passes on the final drive of the half, for 64 yards – the entire passing production for the half.

Barkley followed a shaky first half with a solid second, completing 7 of 10 passes for 128 yards and zero interceptions, a significant key with the 49ers unable to do much of anything against the Bears defense. Barkley effectively convinced coaches that he could operate in the adverse conditions with passing and not simply handing off to Jordan Howard.

“I thought [the way] he handled the two-minute drive before the half, we had to open it up some and throw the ball,” said coach John Fox. “I thought he executed outstanding.”

Barkley finished with 11-of-18 passing for 192 yards, no touchdowns but no interceptions and a passer rating of 97.5.

Running back: A+

In a game that demanded effective rushing, Jordan Howard delivered a statement game, his fifth in the last eight with 100 rushing yards and 115 total yards of offense.

Howard rushed for 3 touchdowns, giving him five on the year, and carried 32 times, an average of 3.7 that belies the overall, which involved the chemistry of the run game, now averaging 4.4 yards on the season . “He’s fun, man,” said guard Eric Kush. “We block our butts off to try to give him something. Even if it’s not the prettiest block, we try to finish our blocks and give him a chance.”

Howard displayed power inside as well as burst on the Bears’ outside-zone runs that exploited the San Francisco edges. He carried 10 times in the first half, then 22 in the second.

“I’m definitely ready to be that workhorse,” said Howard, who now has 883 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns despite not starting until game four. “Even though they might know the run is coming, they still have to stop it.”

Receivers: B+

Josh Bellamy, replaced in the starting lineup by Deonte Thompson after his drop-laced game against Tennessee, had perhaps one the streakiest game of the Bears year. Bellamy again suffered with drops that included lost TD catches, but Bellamy rebounded to match his career-best 4 catches against Tennessee but with 93 yards and a long of 31 and others of 24, 22 and 16 yards. Bellamy also was handed the ball on an end-around for 12 yards.

All of this despite two egregious drops, one of a potential TD ball with Bellamy two steps behind his defender. “He came up to me and said, ‘Keep feeding me,’” Barkley said. “I’m not going to stop giving those guys the ball… .I’m going to keep coming back to them for the rest of the year.”

Cam Meredith remained in the starting lineup and caught 3 of the 4 passes thrown to him, with Thompson and tight end Daniel Brown catching 2 each.

Offensive line: A

With the adverse weather conditions expected, coaches made a specific challenge to the offensive line to take over this game against a struggling San Francisco front. Guard Josh Sitton was active but still limited with an ankle injury, so coaches stayed with Eric Kush at left guard and were rewarded with some consistent blocking in the run game. Kush executed combination blocks and worked to the second level. Kush and Charles Leno repeatedly dominated the San Francisco left side as the Bears pounded with the run and never let up in the snowy conditions.

“With the conditions, you had to run the ball,” Leno said. “The O-line just tried to come together, not worry about the record and win one week at a time.”

The result was another 100-yard rushing day for Jordan Howard, with 3 touchdowns, and 142 rushing yards, high for the season. “Today the offensive line got great push like they always do,” Howard said.

Barkley was sacked once, in the fourth quarter, on a breakdown in one-on-one blocking by tight end Daniel Brown.

Cody Whitehair going down in the fourth quarter with a leg injury was a blow, but Whitehair was able to return later in the period. The Bears had Sitton dressed and part of field-goal unit, and Sitton came in at right guard and Ted Larsen moved over to center.

Coaching: A

The obvious overall effort and preparation of a 2-9 team for a game of virtually no import to the season was noteworthy, as the Bears again played with intensity and efficiency throughout, including recovering from first-half gaffes on special teams that put the Bears down 6-0.

The defense schemed for 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick by staying almost exclusively in a 3-4 front, utilizing three down-linemen and two outside linebackers to pressure Kaepernick and with the speed to thwart his runs. The result was the worst game of Kaepernick’s career, with 20 rushing yards and 4 passing, vs. 25 yards lost to sacks.

The offense held to a run-based mindset and plan, even when the 49ers turned two special-teams mistakes into field goals for the first two scores. The 49ers also relied primarily on man-to-man coverage, committing an extra defender to run defense, but the Bears were willing and able to challenge downfield knowing that the San Francisco pass rush was hampered by the field conditions.

“Props to Dowell[Loggains, offensive coordinator] and the whold coaching staff for getting us ready and making adjustments like that during the game,” Barkley said.

Special teams was again mistake-prone with mental breakdowns compounded by physical mistakes.

Morning Update: Bears beat 49ers; Blackhawks' offense struggles in loss to Jets

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USA TODAY

Morning Update: Bears beat 49ers; Blackhawks' offense struggles in loss to Jets

Here are some of the top stories from Sunday in Chicago sports:

Five Things to Watch: Bulls back in action against Trail Blazers

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Blackhawks score late but can't get past Jets

Bears offense finds groove in win over 49ers

Winter meetings preview: Why teams will find trying to copy a ‘Cubs Way’ rebuild is easier said than done

White Sox revamp would mean fewer 'stopgaps' and 'half-measures'

Significance of Bears win over 49ers lies beyond records and score

Five Things from Blackhawks-Jets: Offense still anemic

Bears' Matt Barkley 'showing the world' he can be a starting QB in the NFL

Lars Johansson excited for Blackhawks call-up