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."

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Here are some of Monday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Preview: Cubs look to bounce back vs. Giants tonight on CSN

White Sox fall to Diamondbacks in series opener

Cubs can't complete another miracle comeback against Giants bullpen

Should Blackhawks' next assistant coach be Joel Quenneville's choice?

How Bears are using veteran videos to school rookies on NFL way

Luis Robert the latest high-end acquisition for White Sox

For Joe Maddon, Cubs winning World Series came down to Giant comeback in SF and avoiding Johnny Cueto in elimination game

Carlos Rodon 'getting closer' but still without time frame for return

Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?

MMQB's Peter King's thoughts on Trubisky, Howard, White and the Bears offense

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

“That’s what we’re supposed to look like,” Joe Maddon said Monday night after a 6-4 loss where the San Francisco Giants scored the first six runs and Wrigley Field got loudest for the David Ross “Dancing with the Stars” look-in on the big video board, at least until a late flurry from the Cubs.

But for a manager always looking for the silver linings, Maddon could replay Addison Russell’s diving stop to his right and strong throw from deep in the hole at shortstop to take a hit away from Christian Arroyo. Or Albert Almora’s spectacular flying catch near the warning track in center field. Or Anthony Rizzo stealing another hit from Brandon Belt with a diving backhanded play near the first-base line.

The highlight reel became a reminder of how the Cubs won 103 games and the World Series last year – and made you wonder why the 2017 team hasn’t played the same consistently excellent defense with largely the same group of personnel.

“Concentration?” Jason Heyward said, quickly dismissing the theory a defensive decline could boil down to focus or effort. “No shot. No shot. It is what it is when it comes to people asking questions about last year having effects, this and that. But this is a new season.

“The standard is still high. What’s our excuse? We played later than anybody? That may buy you some time, but then what?

“The goals stay the same. We just got to find new ways to do it when you have a different team.”

FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver’s statistical website, framed the question this way after the Cubs allowed the lowest batting average on balls in play ever last season, an analysis that goes all the way back to 1871: “Have the Cubs Forgotten How to Field?”

Even if the Cubs don’t set records and make history, they should still be better than 23rd in the majors in defensive efficiency, with 37 errors through 43 games. The Cubs have already allowed 28 unearned runs after giving up 45 all last season.

“We just got to stay on it and keep focusing and not let the miscues go to our head,” Ben Zobrist said. “We just have to keep working hard and staying focused in the field. A lot of that’s the rhythm of the game. I blame a lot of that on the early parts of the season and the weather and a lot of difficult things that we’ve been going through.

“If we’re not hitting the ball well, too, we’re a young team still, and you can carry that into the field. You don’t want to let that happen, but it’s part of the game. You got to learn to move beyond miscues and just focus on the next play.”

Heyward, a four-time Gold Glove winner, missed two weeks with a sprained right finger and has already started nine times in center field (after doing that 21 times all last season). Zobrist has morphed back into a super-utility guy, starting 16 games at second base and 15 in two different outfield spots.

[MORE CUBS: Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?]

Maddon has tried to drill the idea of making the routine play into Javier Baez’s head, so that the uber-talented second baseman can allow his natural athleticism and instincts to take over during those dazzling moments.

The Cubs are basically hoping Kyle Schwarber keeps the ball in front of him in left and setting the bar at: Don’t crash into your center fielder. Like Schwarber and Almora, catcher Willson Contreras hasn’t played a full season in The Show yet, and the Cubs are now hoping Ian Happ can become a Zobrist-type defender all over the field.

“I’m seeing our guys playing in a lot of different places,” Heyward said. “It’s not just been penciling in every day who’s going to center field or right field or left field. We did shake things up some last year, but we did it kind of later in the season. We had guys settle in, playing every day. This year, I feel like we’re having guys in different spots.

“It’s May whatever, (but) it seems like we haven’t really had a chance to settle in yet. Not that we’re procrastinating by any means, but it’s just been a lot of moving pieces.”

The Giants won World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with a formula that incorporated lights-out pitching, airtight defense and just enough clutch pitching. The Cubs are now a 22-21 team trying to figure it out again.

“Defense comes and goes, just like pitching,” said Kris Bryant, the reigning National League MVP, in part, because of his defensive versatility. “I feel like if you look at last year, it’s kind of hard to compare, just because it was so good. We spoiled everybody last year. Now we’re a complete letdown this year.”

Bryant paused and said: “Just kidding. Different years, things regress, things progress, and that’s just how it goes sometimes.”