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Lunchbreak: Hunter's Health, Darrisaw's Readiness & Secondary Top CBS' List of Vikings Unknowns

After the COVID-19 pandemic prohibited attendance at training camp and Vikings home games last season, fans have the opportunity to see their team in action at the 2021 U.S. Bank Vikings Training Camp.

It's hard to believe that training camp – which also includes a scrimmage at U.S. Bank Stadium on Aug. 7 – is starting next week. Players, coaches and fans alike are raring to go, and pundits around the league are posing final questions before camps begin.


U.S. Bank Stadium Practice

Join us for the U.S. Bank Stadium practice on Aug. 7. Fans are encouraged to come early and visit the plaza to enjoy all the activities and excitement of a typical Vikings game day.

Recently, CBS Sports' Cody Benjamin posed three questions “each NFC North team must answer before the 2021 season." For the Vikings, he first delved into the health of Danielle Hunter, who was sidelined in 2020 with a neck injury. Benjamin wrote:

No one could've predicted the Pro Bowl pass rusher would miss the entire 2020 season with a neck injury. And boy did it hurt [Head Coach] Mike Zimmer's defense. Hunter is still underrated as one of the game's most freakishly gifted edge defenders, and his return bodes extremely well for a defensive turnaround. Minnesota had just better hope he's all the way back to form, because the defensive line, while beefed up on the interior, remains relatively thin off the edges.

Benjamin next asked if first-round draft pick Christian Darrisaw is ready to start at the left tackle spot.

Because the Vikings are banking on that being the case, parting ways with Riley Reiff and spending the 23rdpick on the Virginia Tech product. Darrisaw was arguably a steal at that spot, but Minnesota needs to be sure he's prepared considering how important the line is to both Kirk Cousins' comfort as a play-action specialist and Dalvin Cook's role as offensive centerpiece. The alternative, at this point, isn't obvious, but that doesn't lessen the urgency here.

View photos of the Vikings second mandatory minicamp practice at the TCO Performance Center.

Lastly, Benjamin addressed the new-look Vikings secondary: Do the veteran cornerbacks still have it?

Zimmer's "D" is due for a noticeable rebound, but that's dependent on a couple things: One, Hunter staying healthy up front, and two, the experienced new faces bringing more than just experience. We're talking chiefly about Patrick Peterson and Bashaud Breeland, the safest bets to start throughout 2021 alongside Cameron Dantzler; as well as, to a lesser degree, returning familiar face Mackensie Alexander. If they look just serviceable, the Vikings can enter the year confident.

It's worth checking out Benjamin's full post to view questions he posed for the Bears, Lions and Packers – the most pressing for the latter, of course, being whether Aaron Rodgers will be playing in Green Bay.

There isn't really a more pressing question in the entire NFL. With A-Rod, the Packers are essentially the same team that's come within one win of the Super Bowl in two straight years. Without him, they are ... a total unknown, thrust from the top of the NFC to an alternate dimension, in which apparent Rodgers successor Jordan Love takes over after playing zero snaps as a rookie.

ESPN tabs Ezra Cleveland among 15 '2nd-year breakout candidates'

Which players will take a big jump from Year 1 to Year 2?

Seth Galina of Pro Football Focus offered answers to that question Thursday in a piece on when he ranked the NFL's "second-year breakout candidates." He listed 15 players with the best chance to "become stars" and placed Vikings guard Ezra Cleveland at No. 3. Galina wrote:

The former left tackle at Boise State was moved to guard immediately after being drafted by the Vikings, and although there were some rocky moments, he did enough to warrant a spot on this list.

From Week 6 – the beginning of his tenure as a starter – to Week 10, Cleveland was the 52nd-highest-graded player at the position (57.2) among 70 guards who played at least 100 snaps. From then on, everything started to click. His grade rose to 71.5 over his last five games, which put him 17th among guards to close out the season. He graded out better as a run blocker over the course of the season, which makes sense given the intricacies of switching from tackle to guard in pass protection, as he was tasked with taking on bigger bodies inside.

Cleveland's second half of the 2020 season provides hope that he can become a top player at the position for Minnesota as early as this season.

Coming in at No. 1 and 2 on the list, respectively, were Bengals QB Joe Burrow and Broncos WR Jerry Jeudy.

The Vikings could meet Burrow in Week 1 when they kick off the 2021 regular season in Cincinnati if the 2020 No. 1 overall pick is healthy.

Before Burrow was lost for the season in November with a left knee injury, he put together an elite season when throwing 20 yards or fewer – and an abysmal one when throwing deep. He was the sixth-highest-graded quarterback on throws of 20 yards or fewer, earning a 90.1 passing mark. He ranked just 34th(61.5) on deep passes.

There are arm strength concerns, but it felt like Burrow just had a run of bad luck. And those deep-ball issues, which were not all his fault, could either be addressed or naturally regress to the mean. If Burrow keeps up his accuracy and decision-making under 20 yards and the rest of his game irons out, he could be a strong contender for a Pro Bowl spot in 2021.

Lions CB Jeff Okudah was the only other NFC North player included on Galina's list. Minnesota is slated to play Detroit in Weeks 5 and 13 this season. Okudah, the third overall draft selection in 2020, struggled greatly as a rookie. But Galina is optimistic that a new defensive system will set the youngster up for more success.

Vikings Executive Honored by 'Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal'

Vikings Executive Vice President & Chief Legal Officer Karin Nelsen has been recognized by the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal.

Nelsen was named in the "third group of 2021 Women in Business honorees, including executives from professional sports, banking, the nonprofit sector and more."

MSPBJ's Kim Johnson wrote:

We're recognizing 51 women, plus one Career Achievement honoree, for their professional achievements and contributions to the Twin Cities community. They're in professional sports, health care, economic development, insurance, banking and finance.

Nelsen was recognized Wednesday along with 10 other female professionals in the Twin Cities.